Stories from behind the Scenes of Dutch Moral Modernism
In the last several years, the Netherlands has successfully exported the image of a young and adventurous Modern Dutch architecture. While the rest of the world’s young architects look on with envy, a euphoric and self congratulatory atmosphere suffuses the work of young Dutch architects and critics. One of the most appealing features of this ’Nineties Dutch Modernism’ is its historical connection to what many feel to be the moral authority of early 20th century Dutch Modern architecture. Indeed, it is this tradition of moral modernism which is still thought to define contemporary Dutch architecture. Unlike in the United States and in many European and Asian countries, Modernism in the Netherlands was never threatened by postmodern relativism. Modernism, it might be said, remained pure. Mart Stam’s Trousers, Stories from behind the Scenes of Dutch Moral Modernism examines how this new image of contemporary Dutch architecture has been constructed by carefully revisiting the image of Dutch Modernism on which it draws.
While Holland and the rest of the world want to believe in the intrinsically moral character of Dutch Modern architecture, the image ’Dutch Moral Modernism’ was, in fact, artfully crafted by some of the most illustrious names in 20th century architecture: Jaap Bakema (Team X, Forum), J.J.P. Oud, Philip Johnson, and Alison and Peter Smithson. The title, Mart Stam’s Trousers, comes from an interview with Peter Smithson which appears in the book. In the interview, Smithson relates the story of a photograph of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier in which a mysterious form is purported to be the trousered leg of Mart Stam, the rest of whose body has been successfully erased from the picture. It is such manipulation of the historical picture of Modernism that is the subject of the book. Indeed, this is just one of the many stories (in the form of interviews, photo-essays, historical correspondence, artists pages, microhistory, manifesto, reprint, theoretical text, timeline and storyboard) told by friends and enemies of Dutch Moral Modernism. Authors, artists and interviewees include Peter Smithson, Bart Gorter, Rem Koolhaas, Michelle Provoost, Carel Weeber, Dolf Broekhuizen, Ed Taverne, Gerard Fox, Joost Meuwissen & Matthijs Bouw, Philip Johnson, J.J.P. Oud, Mischa Keizer, Wouter Vanstiphout, Michael Speaks and Gerard Hadders.
Engelstalige publicatie over de wijze waarop het (progressieve zelf)beeld van de Nederlandse architectuur in heden en verleden, in binnen- en buitenland is gevormd.
This compact paperback, packed with illustrations, stimulating and opinionated, is a beautifully produced Dutch delight. A little tart, perhaps?
Architect David Wild in The Architects’ Journal, March 20th 2000
Of all European countries, the Netherlands has unrivalled claims to the richest modernist architectural heritage. It is a lineage that descends from De Stijl and the International Style, through to the contemporary work of MVRDV, Rem Koolhaas and Van Berkel, and Bos. This historical connection with so-called Dutch Moral Modernism is examined in Mart Stam’s Trousers, an architectural history that romps playfully through the decades, part detective history, part dissection. A collaboration between the Crimson Group of architectural historians, Wouter Vanstiphout and Cassandra Wilkins, Michael Speaks, and Gerard Hadders, ’Mart Stam’s Trousers’ examines how Dutch architecture came to be heralded by the chroniclers of the International Style.[...] The title revers to the most visible rearrangement of the memory of Dutch modernism, the careful (although not careful enough) removal of Mart Stam from a photograph with Corb and Mies leaving only a hint of trouser. Reminiscent of David King’s fascinating study of Stalinist-era photographic manipulation, The Commisar Vanishes, this editing of history in the darkroom mirrors the valiant way the early chroniclers of modernism, Hitchcock, Johnson, Smithson et al, strove to reshape the history of modern architecture to their own ends.[...] De Stijl’s visual power led it to become akey focus for early advocates of a unified modern movement, notably Philip Johnson. Heralding JJP Oud as one of the great modern masters, Johnson carefully edited Oud’s built work, neglecting to publish the great brick housing shemes in favour of the clean, clinical modernism of his projects at Kiefhoek and Witte Dorp.[...] A fascinating correspondence began between the two men as Johnson plied his hero with bicycle tyres and socks. At the same time he expressed his bewilderment at Oud’s apparent desertion of the modernist cause as the Dutchman has used - shock, horror - ornament, in his Shell Buiding of 1938-46. It heralded the end of the correrspondence. Oud signed off forlorny: ’If America does not like my future, it could, at all events, have respect for my past that helped its architects too’.[...] The shadow of Rem falls long across these pages. Koolhaas’ S,M,X,XL [shouldn’t this be S,M,L,XL? (ed.)] was a pivotal moment in modernist self-promotion (the return of the book as manifesto); MVRDV followed with FARMAX, and Van Berkel and Bos with the chunky Move. The buildings discussed here are snapped in full, late-century reportage style, with Martin Parresque colour, taking care to include the racist graffiti, chilly soft-porn shoots and urban detritus that escapes the calculating eye of the collaborative biographer and the monograph. Rich in irony, Mart Stam’s Trousers cuts through the century-old tradition that has informed architecture in the Netherlands. The cover bears rows of identical cubicles and red litter bins ranked on hard-standing. This is Rotterdam’s Municipal Heroin Prostitution Tolerance Zone, perhaps the ultimate form of Dutch moral modernism?[...] The modern movement has its myths. Even the most clinically crisp and structurally honest building has secrets. But architecture lends itself to eulogy. Crimson is to be congratulated on laying bare the means by which we arrive at a view of the past, and how the present shapes the past in order to justify its means.
Jonathan Bell in Blueprint, April 2000