WA magazine (China) on Complex Projects

Interview by TIAN Ni - WA magazine (China), 326 issue, 08 2017

In relation to the background of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at Delft University of Technology, World Architecture interviewed the Chair of the Complex Project (2006-present), professor Kees Kaan.


WA: World Architecture is going to publish an issue on “Space for Architectural Teaching” exploring the relationship between teaching space and architectural education. Can you please let our audience know more about the Faculty of architecture at Delft? And something about “BK City”?

Kees Kaan (KK): The faculty members of architecture at Delft come from many departments, so it’s not just an architecture school focusing on designing buildings exclusively, it’s called the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, so it looks at a wider scope of everything related to the making of our environment, including urban planning, real estate management, building technology, heritage, restoration renovation, and of course architecture. And all these different departments are combined into one faculty and they all use that building called “BK City”. It is called BK City because it functions like a city. It is a place with many, different cultures or subcultures inside it, like people from different neighborhoods, with different attentions, and different interests.

So before BK City was there, the architectural faculty consisted of the same group of people. They were housed in a totally different building that was built in the 1960s designed by Jaap Bakema and Johannes van den Broek, two very important Dutch architects, and it was a building with a highrise tower, but it burned down in 2008. That building was a very well articulated architectural project, specifically designed to be an architectural faculty. After the fire, that destroyed the entire building, the faculty was provisionally housed in tents. It changed the faculty from being vertically organized to the horizontal layout of the tents.

It is totally different spatial experience that changed entirely the way people collaborated and started to work, because in the building with the vertical system, with elevators and staircases, most of the meet and greet happened only on the ground floor. After a coffeebreak or a lunch we had move up to disappear into our own individual space to sit there and work. There was not so much informal interaction between people, between different faculty members. Interactions between students and professors etc. were even less because professors and teachers had their own rooms and they could simply go into their rooms closing the door. In the tents this was not possible because there were no doors and we had no rooms, so everybody was in one big space and everything was provisionally, and that created a very informal atmosphere of exchange of knowledge and information, and meeting each other. Of course it was a bit more difficult to concentrate into work and the comfort was rather moderate. Then finally the university decided to put the faculty of architecture – which is a very large faculty actually, we are about three thousand people there – to put it in an old building they actually we’re just intending to sell but with the fire they stopped it at the last moment.

It was an old chemistry building that is now turned into BK City, and that old building became our new home. I like this building which stretches out as a long horizontal surface with different wings and courtyards, and two of the big courtyards were covered with a big glass roof. One of those courtyards became the orange room, where students work, where lecture and events are organized and that has become the emblematic space of the faculty. It’s always a bit noisy, but it is very dynamic too.

The other big courtyard became the model room, big machines are placed and many students can make models simultaneously, and the rest of the building most renovated in very fast quick way, very provisional, to make it possible for the active faculty to move in within two or three months, that happens, and it was the best thing that ever happened to the school of architecture at Delft. Since that moment communication between people of the school became more informal and more frequent.

The ambience became much better, big spaces for exchange, big floor plates, and also because of this somehow provisional character. Things were not perfect and that was exactly right. It was of course a shock. The fire shook up the whole population of BK City. Professors like me, we don’t have our own private rooms, I don’t even have my own desk. I am working everyday from my laptop. I do have a room for my chair where did my team can work together, but I don’t have my individual desk, the disadvantages maybe that you’re sometimes difficult to find, but the advantage is you work in a much more open and informal ambience, no treshholds. So I think, this is what happened to the architecture faculty in the Netherlands: fire, the tents, the new building, the provisional renovation and the way it is used. The faculty was taken out of its comfort zone entirely, and then had to work with what was available at short notice. Not everything is perfect, and it’s impossible to get the perfect. I hope gradually we will improve the building to make acoustics better in certain rooms and things are being improved, but this sort of level of inconvenience and the necessity to work with what you have, created a very strong, good collaborative spirit that improves the way people exchange knowledge and information, and so to improve education.


WA: In your opinion, what are the connections between architectural space and teaching?

KK: Well yes there is important connection, because we have experienced with the shift it made a huge impact.

It has shaken the institutional aspect of teaching. Louis Kahn said: for teaching, what you need is a place where you sit under the tree, you make a circle together and you have a teaching situation, teacher and students under a tree. To a certain extent that is true, so teaching is possible under very different conditions, but it always happens among people. Teaching is about the exchange of knowledge and information. When there is a necessity to organize teaching at larger scale, to institutionalize it, then the question of the type of facilities you need becomes relevant. Say how many trees you need with people under it, and how many big trees and small trees or big rooms or small rooms and how many meeting places, and also, so what kind of settlement or layout to make, for the institute to function. So for teaching, not with standing studio or seminar or big lectures or informal discussions, you need students to feel comfortable, and you prefer the students to work at the school rather than them staying at home, so you want them to come to the building and do their work there.

So the building has to provide a large scale of different facilities in different places, for the students to feel connected, to feel that they want to be there, so I don’t have the sort of recipe for an ideal teaching space. It is such a complex question, but I think that, the bottom line is exchange and meeting, and I think that is super important for a pleasure place of education.


WA: How about the mixed functions of the review space or the exhibition space?

KK: I think the most of the spaces have relatively dedicated character, for example, the model room is mostly used for models.


WA: But sometimes, the presentation and exhibition can happen in the same time and same place.

KK: Well, I would say it’s not so easy that we mix in BK City two difference things. There would be a larger exhibition space for graduation exhibitions, so that at events we do very often or sometimes we have to do that object. The other thing is the store, because our students doing the models, and we have to storage them now and then, because the classrooms have to be empty and clean, studio spaces have to be empty for new studios and then we want to keep the models for presentation, at the end of three semesters I want to make an exhibition but two storage is the work of the students, that’s really problematic, we simply don’t have this place for that so that it’s still a problem. I think it is important also to consider both exhibition and storage.


WA: So you mean in terms of usage, it’s more like leaving the place to be occupied, and then we discover our function and reinterpreted with this place?

KK: I think it depends on density. I do think we have pressure, and cannot use the place with flexibility. It automatically occurs, especially when a high pressure on the space exists. That’s not only in an educational facility but also happens in cities already, so when there’s a lot of pressure on the usage, people become automatically creative, tolerant and flexible. In BK we have a very high pressure. We have a huge facility, but still it always fully filled and crammed and it’s really very intensely used, of course there are also very quiet moments, but that has to do with the system of education. All the programs are sort of running in parallels, so everybody has his presentations in the same weeks, everything runs in parallel, so there are very quiet weeks, and then there are the weeks that you need three times the building. In that sense, it would be more practical not to run everything in parallel, because you have this academic calendar, a very strong demarcation of semesters and quarters, periods for exams, so you always have the peaks of use of the building. It is complicate.


WA: After fire, what happened to the original building?

KK: It was not a little fire. The fire completely and totally burned down the building and it disappeared entirely. So it was really collapsed, after that, there was nothing left but ashes, so that’s why we went to the other building, originally with the intention as a temporary place, and then to build a new building. That temporary solution turned out to be okay, let’s us simply stay there.


WA: As we know, a part of the areas was designed by MVRDV, what do you think about it?

KK: I like it very much, it’s very nice places. It’s one of the courtyards that they made the lecture facilities in it, the orange stairs, and I think it’s very nice, at the stairs students can sit and hang around. Sometimes lectures take place there, and it works as one of the central spaces in the building.


WA: In BK City, which part of the building is most popular for the students? How about the users’ feedback?

KK: I’m not sure, because I never interviewed the students. There are different rooms that are very much liked, but it seems they do like the cafe outside, especially on sunny days, it can be very crowded there. So there’s really a hot spot as you can say, also the espresso bar is really a meeting point, it’s very much liked. I think the students also like very much the model room, it’s a very good place, it’s very big spectacle, and it’s nice to work there and see all the models and see different students at work. The orange room, I think, is also much liked, and also much appreciated, because there is a very strong character, it’s sort of a icon for the BK City. You could say it is one of the wonderful places that is photographed a lot, but then there are also educational areas like those in the east wing, the ground floor space which is a very big nice studio, and you can work with at least hundred students, it’s super nice and fantastic.

(Proofread by LIU Yishi)