exhibition by crimson
1 January 1998
Near total exasperation about the state of the profession has given way to one of the most important new urbanistic concepts in a decade: an urbanism of negotiation. Dutch city planners complain that 99% of their time is spent meeting people: trying to get the highway people to talk with the sports centre people; trying to get the railway people to stop their vendetta against the vegetable-garden people; trying to convince the Shell refinery people that they should stop protesting against the McDonald’s drive in being built in front of their installations; convincing the Telecom corporation to get a really good architect to build something spectacular in the middle of the city, etc. Picture the urbanist, rushing breathlessly from meeting to meeting, having to beg for favours from roughnecked specialists, corporate suits, whining environ-mentalists, racist neighbourhood-committees, cold-blooded politicians and leering developers. All the while he is dreaming about devising a beautiful urban plan, that would be usable for at least twenty or thirty years. It would give the city a foundation to accommodate both change and continuity. The public, civic, collective city would be transubstantiated in this plan, while the short term, private interests would come to the fore in its architectural in-fill. This view of urbanism is imbued with the ideology of one coherent democratic civic authority versus a great many incidental private corporate bodies.
Since the social democrat housing law of 1901, Dutch urbanism has been based on the state-production of housing. In other words the state not only produced the plan but also had great control over the substance that fills it out. The memories of Berlage’s Amsterdam Zuid plan, Cor van Eesterens General Extension plan for Amsterdam and the reconstruction of Rotterdam haunt contemporary urban design. The current psychological state of urbanism is partly due to this memory of an all-powerful social democratic urbanism, a memory which during the past few years has been made more poignant by the states' retreat from the housing market. (The strange thing is that Dutch planners still have an incredible amount of power. Nation-wide, there is more urban planning per square meter than in any other Western country).
The culture of European urbanism in general is based on an ideal sameness of Urbs and Civitas, on the city as a physical artefact being the logical offspring of the city as a discrete governable unit. The municipal borders are also expected to be the physical borders of the city; the emptinesses in between the cities should correspond with the regional plans, made by the province. Urbanist discourse in Europe is highly representational of this integrity of government and city-form. It constantly evokes the existence of the city as a coherent mental, physical, political and cultural unit, steered from its civic heart and brain. This explains why the spatial terms used in European urbanism often whisk you away from the streets to a civic never-neverland of dialectical relationships in a phenomenological fog: centre vs. periphery, open vs. enclosed, public vs. private, inside vs. outside etc.
The neat hierarchical and territorial structure of democratic power wherein the state delegates power to the provinces, the province to the cities and the city to the boroughs is a beautiful metaphysical idea. The workings of the state upon the urban areas, however, cannot be understood along these lines. We have to admit that the city government is only one of the parties that play in the urban field. In fact now we have many urbes and many civitates. That is, if we accept urbs as simply being the hardware, and civitas the orgware: the collection of organising, regulating and/or financing structures that govern the hardware. These are two distinct levels of urbanity, overlapping in ever new ways, producing new kinds of nodes and unfamiliar landscapes. Also the government itself is divided in many different producers of policy, often contradicting each other: the ministry of economic affairs resists the idea of compact city growth because this would hinder economic development; the ministry for the environment supports it because it is believed to curb automobility in favour of public transport; the ministry of public works and traffic privatises public transport so that it follows its own market-logic and becomes more expensive. These different organisational actions do not cancel each other out, rather, they produce different threads and strands of orgware.
Sometimes the state directly implements a policy that has huge unforeseen local effects; sometimes tiny marginal towns or villages can work up a froth of political influence that derails an operation on a national or even European scale. Apart from the inherent complexity of governmental power, there is also the complex mix of governmental power and market powers. Or rather, there is the complex fact that it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish state power from market power, and probably irrelevant to even try. Take for instance the gradual privatisation of the railway company, or the financial and political stakes the state has in companies like Fokker and Royal Dutch Shell, or the fact that state facilities like port authorities or airports are run like private companies with public relations campaigns, double breasted suits and profit based policies. It produces a political/economical condition closer to that of Asia than to that of America, where the Trade Board would immediately crack down on the sort of monopolies and trusts formed by post-public corporations like telecommunications or the railway. The conventional dialectical relationship between public power and private initiative has fragmented into a Mikado-game of public, semi public, crypto-public, private, semi-private and pseudo-private power.
6. Be aware.
In his book about Aesthetic Politics the historian Frank Ankersmit talks about a 'third paradigm of power', in a way that is highly appropriate to the current state of affairs in our cities:
The first paradigm is that of the heliotrope, the power of the roi soleil to rule his country. Right at the opposite end of the power spectrum we find Foucault's "capillaries of power", that insidious kind of power that conceals itself in disciplinary discourse, felt or even noticed by a few, but nevertheless quite real... Between the power of the heliotrope and disciplinary power we can, however, situate a third paradigm of power. This is an anonymous and unpredictable kind of power, without traceable origins or foundations, freely circulating around, much like those immense and elusive clouds of money moving around the financial world in a way that worries so many contemporary economists... This form of power is no less real, but a great deal more visible, than Foucault's disciplinary power. In fact we have already been aware of this kind of power for a long time, albeit only as an absence, as powerlessness. But the powerlessness of the modern state I have in mind here, its inability to steer the ship of state, should not be seen as mere powerlessness, as an absence of power, as degree zero in the power scale. Rather, there is another, anonymous kind of power at work whose operations are still largely a secret to us.1
Ankersmit offers an interesting perspective on the contemporary state of urbanism: the implementation of urbanism and architecture has always been understood in terms of a dialectical relationship between the internal developments of the discipline and the external power needed to implement it. In urbanist discourse the third power is indeed seen as powerlessness, as an obstacle to the implementation of big ambitions; it is seen as an anonymous mass made up from abject market forces and incomprehensible bureaucracy. It is a lowly presence, best to be avoided, hardly ever written about except in the most averse tones: as something architecture and urbanism has to be saved from. The fact that the third power - orgware, bureaucracy, market forces (or however you want to call it) has meanwhile turned out to be the natural environment for building in any form or scale, is the trades' biggest public secret.
To the practitioners of urbanism the operations of this ‘other, anonymous kind of power' are no secret. They deal with them each day. If left to their own devices, which they nearly always are, the powers that be produce the usual landscape wherein the highway gets built by the highway people according to their preoccupations, then the Dutch noise and pollution laws make it illegal to have housing, public buildings or shops in a zone of 600 meters on either side of the highway. Only open-air facilities like sports and gardening and industry are allowed. City planning regulations state that for every house you need a certain number of m2 open green space, other regulations say that you need so many sports facilities and vegetable gardens. The net product is that the open space, sports fields and vegetable gardens, are put into the zones on either side of the highway. It leaves the urban designer a small space to plan his city, for which he only controls the basic formal figures in which will be built the houses. Also the design of urban space is under nearly complete control of the traffic specialists, who determine for example the width of sidewalks. Then there are the bus company people, the railway people and the tram people who determine routes and concentrations. All parties derive a confidence bordering on autism from an immutable set of rules. The basic structure of recent Dutch extension plans is recognisable everywhere. It is not a planning decision. It does not come from an idea about how a city should be built or what urbanism should do. It is an authorless form and a perfect spatial translation of Ankersmit’s third paradigm of power. An obscene amount of space is wasted, distance being the only urban tissue that can always connect the different modalities of power.
Many urbanists try to explain their predicament ideologically, by stating that it is no longer their task to wield power or have big ideas that pertain to the whole city, that they just have to go with the flow, accommodate the social and the market forces, be flexible, pragmatic and go from question to question, build high-quality wherever they can. Now that plans like Berlage’s or Van Eesteren’s for Amsterdam can no longer be produced for the entire city, urban designers try to achieve on the scale of a single neighbourhood the same density of control per square meters that Berlage and Van Eesteren had over entire cities. In further contrast to Berlage and Van Eesteren, the Urban design for these new residential areas refuses to dictate one consistent formal matrix wherein all the people are made to live because this is thought to be politically incorrect. Instead they project a formal kaleidoscope of which the differentiation represents the post-modern pluralist society. Modernist urbanism forced répétition upon us, post-modern urbanism forces différence upon us. To paraphrase Michael Speaks you might say that urbanism too often feels content to represent its milieu, and no longer strives to effect change on it.2 To regain freedom and reconnect with the city in its entirety and its complexity, urbanism will have to switch powers; it no longer should be dependent on the civic powerpyramids of yesterday, but learn to tap into the powerspaghetti of today.
Take, for example, Max’s plan for the extension of Utrecht, Leidsche Rijn (a plan in which our office was initially involved), wherein a plot was devised to bring together the impossibly heterogeneous claims and demands of all the bureaucratic warlords that roam over Dutch space. One example of a design technique closer to that of Richard Holbrooke than to that of Henk Berlage can be seen in the claims for emptinesses by archaeologists who expect to find something old underneath the grass, or by gas companies that don’t want people to build above their underground pipes. This was an unexpected move because the normal procedure is to negotiate half of them out, to preserve the formal integrity of the original urban design. In this case there was no formal integrity and there was no original urban design. The empty spaces on the map of claims were simply named parks and were made to cater to the state regulated amount of green space per dwelling, producing – as an afterthought – an Arp-like scattered formal structure. The result was that those bureaucratic obstacles which usually account for the powerlessness of the urban designer were simply turned into urban design themselves. The biggest spatial claim, however, was aggressively attacked. The 30.000 houses had to be built on the other side of a huge new highway. Normally, the regulatory voids on either side would isolate the new city from the old one. Max quickly understood that homing in on the behaviour of the highway was the only way to have any real influence on the city to be built. They conceived of the new highway as a tunnel lying on the ground instead of underneath, so that the urban substance could creep over the highway, not hindered by orgware barriers. Getting the highway-engineers to play along was dramatically turned into the core of the 'design'. The urban designers left their drawing boards and went on an endless round of meetings with the highway-people, the province-people, the legislation-people etc., challenging each piece of assumed certainty. They bargained, blackmailed and pleaded until consensus was reached that it was 'socially imperative' to cover this particular motorway.
The third element of the plan was how to 'design' the enormous fields of houses, offices, public buildings that would arise in the next twenty years, built for the most part by private developers. This is the part in which our office was specifically involved. Together with Max we came up with an alternative for the conventional, urban design drawing: the list of indices. Having found that Michael Speaks is capable of explaining this device much better than we are ourselves, we quote him:
Having discovered the orgware of Vinex (the government policy for the large urban extensions formulated in 1990, WV) MAX 1, and Crimson developed their own in the form of indices (building regulations, boundaries, person-space index, mixture, distribution, program and Ux) and corresponding maps. For Max1. however, density and other traditional urbanistic concerns have been reformulated and re-entered into a new calculus dictated by opportunity rather than obligation. Here as elsewhere in the plan, and in the other projects of Max 1., individual choice and freedom are not attached to or confined by architecture, but are allowed free expression and movement. But form does not disappear altogether as a concern: it just becomes one factor among many. Acknowledging the impossibility how the market will transform such a huge chunk (70%) of the program, Max 1. introduces form as powder, as a field of opportunities that they insist will help retain the coherence of the scheme over time, without it becoming a gelatinous blob on a map of predetermined choices and possibilities.3
11. Have no power.
Leidsche Rijn is an urbanism of negotiation, and proud of it. The negotiations were not done in order to get the design realised; the design was made to negotiate with, to get the city built. The most important ingredient of this story is that the urban designers who came up with the impossible idea of integrating the construction of the new highway in the construction of the new town, and succeeded in having it their way, had no real power at all. They did not even have a strong and stable power base to operate from. They were a young office hired by a big office, hired temporarily by the city. Their position was that of consultants, the plan they drew up had the shaky status of a 'sketch masterplan'. The power they were able to tap into came from the fact that they put forward one simple idea, that upset all existing power relations, and then proceeded to try and influence these powers. Having no power themselves, their freedom of movement was not defined by the limits of their mandate.
12. Sink back.
Retrospectively, the risk of certain aspects of the Leidsche Rijn method of urbanism-by-negotiation is that it seems to reduce urbanism to strategy, to a boardroom game of 'cunning plans'. Michael Speaks astutely saw our list of indices as adding some orgware of our own to the existing orgware. It probably still is quite a good idea, but in hindsight there is a fearful lack of transcendence in this attitude: in this will to become powder, unrecognisable, homeopathic. This way urbanism risks losing the power to evoke an ideal city, or to present other wondrous urban possibilities; it risks becoming a mute specialism, hiding behind the intricacies of its negotiations, sinking back into the mire of the third power.
To counter this neutrality more attention has to be given to the spatial aspect of the complex-orgware driven city and the urbanism that fits it. Space seems a terrifyingly old-fashioned thing to talk about; but we should be able to distinguish it as an empirical fact from the mystical spatiality put forward by a century of architecture-theory. While all other urban practices are primarily interested in certain categories of things, urbanism is primarily interested in where to put them, whatever they might be. The fact that this practice deals in something that isn't really there, but only exists when it is filled with something else or is marked off by someone, makes it impossible for urbanism to be a specialism. This sentiment also comes through in Max 1's 'mission statement': "At the time of its founding, it was decided that it is vital not to specialise"4. Fuck craftsmanship, forget about tradition; urbanism isn't even a discipline; urbanism is a generalist, conceptual practice. That's why people not educated as urbanists have always been the better urbanists: military engineers, lawyers, architects, cartoonists. Just as the city is losing its archaic hierarchical coherence, the relationships between politicians, planners, architects and critics are losing their logical territorialism. If theorists and historians are able to do more than merely reflect or comment, their ideas, analyses and concepts acquire the same level of reality, and practicality as those of the aforementioned figures. Of course it means that they forget believing in their special role in society as intellectual, connoisseur or ambassador for a certain group of designers. To quote Lady Thatcher, “there’s no such thing as society”. Being a critic means nothing; being an architect means nothing.
Enter Rotterdam, the world’s most provincial global metropolis. In Holland there is no other city where such a small part of what is really happening can be grasped by city government and urban planning. Somehow, even if the harbour and the industry have always been seen as elements of Rotterdam’s rough, workmanlike charm, in their contemporary state they are excluded from the definition of urbanity. They are certainly not included in urbanist practice. This is a direct consequence of the fact that the central city-government and the urban planners do not determine the building of infrastructure and the location of industry. This is determined by global developments like the Suez crisis forcing oil consuming countries to build their own refineries and containerisation, by the national government wanting to use Rotterdam as a 'funnel to global trade' and digging canals, building highways and laying tracks, by the big multinational companies, by the port authority, which is still officially a department of the city, but operates autonomously and is structured like a corporation itself. The work of the planners often stops hundreds of meters before the harbour, the highway, the railway and the industry begin. The conventional idea about Rotterdam is that the huge bundles of infrastructure, the refineries and especially the immense harbour basins have fragmented Rotterdam. The urbanists and the city officials do not see the harbour as being part of the city; because it has fallen out of its grasp, it also falls outside of its scope.
15. Be old.
It has not always been this way. In 1969, the harbour and the infrastructure were going through their most convulsive growth. To make the contemporary developments fit in an urbanistic concept, City government had its planners explode the theoretical scale of the city and present the spectacular Plan Rotterdam 2000+. The prophecy had the harbour penetrating the whole region, the infrastructural network tripling, and the city doubling itself by a new town of 500.000. In the early seventies, the oil crisis, New Left politics, sociology, contextualism, ecology and anti-capitalism all left such an impression on Rotterdam as to make such a definition of city impossible (not to say abject). Urbanism and city government joined hands and presented a new program and a new slogan: build for the neighbourhood, not for the city. The houses in the nineteenth century workers quarters were nationalised and restored to the proletariat. Urban planning was decentralised. Urbanists formed teams with inhabitants and together made plans for little squares, street corners, carfree zones etc. Disguised as a series of minute operations, a massive cultural revolution was going on, costing billions and giving the city government total control over the urban tissue of the neighbourhoods. The urban renewal of the seventies produced much of the orgware that up to this moment defines urban planning: in the form of bureaucratic institutions, legislature, financing channels and above all a good old boys' network of social-democrat politicians, planners, policy makers and designers born in the forties. Of course now the Maoist ideology has been filed away and culture, hedonism, good design and public-private partnerships have been added. The basic mechanism remains the same: the scale of the city is theoretically and organisationally imploded into a cluster of boroughs so that civic power and urbanism can be deployed at maximum density.
Somewhere in between the exploded city of 1969 and the imploded city of 1972 lies the contemporary mainport-conurbation Rotterdam. When looking at the map it immediately becomes clear that only myopic urbanists can maintain that the harbour and the city have lost contact or even that harbour and infrastructure fragment the cityform. The harbour, the motorways, the trainlines, the refineries are cityform. The coherence of the conurbation is guaranteed by the infrastructure and the industry. In the middle we have a huge industrial estuary, an artificial fjord, an infrastructural Loch, going right into the centre of Rotterdam. It consists of harbour basins, is structured by radar-systems and inhabited by boats, cranes, containers, sheds and trucks.
This is how it came about: In 1858, when the national government decided that the Rhine should have a direct sealink, and Holland a direct trainlink to Belgium, the harbour of Rotterdam was conceived. First a fiscal and technological enclave was built opposite the city-centre. A trainbridge was built over the River, and driven right through the centre of Rotterdam before going to Amsterdam. In this way Rotterdam was the first city to be overwhelmed by the harbour, then the harbour developed westward, engulfing entire fishing villages in the housing that followed the construction of port facilities like workers’ housing, basins, railway lines, industry parks and motorways. Finally the beautiful beach-village of Oostvoorne found the artificial land of the Maasvlakte on its horizon, with which the Harbour of Rotterdam had finally burst through the countries natural confines. On the other side of the river the towns to the west of Rotterdam grew and grew with the arrival of harbour workers and like a kebab were skewered on the highway running to the coast.
Over the estuary is stretched a grid of highways consisting of three huge mazes that span the river with one bridge and two tunnels. The highway grid not only connects the harbour to Europe, but also interconnects the towns, villages, suburbs, satellite towns and the city-centre with each other. Without the highway-grid which was specifically made to unlock the harbour, the travelling time between them would have been thrice as much. The fact that Rotterdammers travel by the highway, through the refineries to the artificial landscape of the Maasvlakte to find the biggest and best beaches of Holland disproves any doubts about the urbanity of the contemporary harbour. Of course nothing of this coherent system or its history is determined by urbanistic concepts, and hardly by territorial politics. The dotted lines that divide the territory in different municipalities seem to be strewn at random over the coherent pattern of physical elements we see on the map. There is a shocking discrepancy between on one side the real conurbation and on the other official urban design and the political boundaries it is based on.
Somewhere between the besieged territories of urbanism and the immense arteries and non-civic territories of the conurbation might just lie the hunting grounds for another, more adventurous, more optimistic kind of urbanism. It is here that we find the most maddening sedimentations of power, disguised as powerlessness, and the most exciting collection of possibilities, disguised as impossibilities. In between the clear-cut territories of for instance the refinery, and, say, the middle-class neighbourhood, lie areas that do not derive their logic and filling from one single authority or owner, but from the fact that they are filled to the brim with the political, functional and physical leftovers of the city. These areas have never been decided upon, are in no way authorised, but are filled with the consequences of other decisions and authorisations. On the one hand they have come into existence because they contain or lie next to something that has to be kept far from other things: a factory or a highway. On the other, since nothing else can be put here, they slowly or quickly fill up with 'the rest'. These areas form the spatial substance, secreted under the duress of urban transformation. They are dense concentrations of what Frank Ankersmit calls the third paradigm of power. They naturally follow the lines of infrastructure and industry, interconnect and form a belt-like continuum. These areas naturally reject urban design; they are by definition divided up by many authorities, private and public and everything in between, they are always 'polluted' with restrictive orgware like negative zoning laws, they are always physically contradictory to the idea of a good city and they perform a necessary function as a hiding place for all the bad things that are irreconcilable with the good idea of the city (like for instance that it is bureaucratically complex) and therefore should not be brought into the light by urbanist or political attention. This is why, on several levels, they form a haze in the eyes of urbanistic practice, a red haze. But much more than the urbanistic city they perform the necessary function of the city.
One of the exotic species inhabiting these areas is the toleration zone for street prostitution by heroin addicts. It occupies a little-used industrial area, cut off from a poor neighbourhood by a railway line. It consists of a long abri were the addicted women stand soliciting, some fences and some trees and flowerpots. The healthy men in their nice cars pass the sick women. Having chosen one, they drive around the back and park their car between two fences. Here they fuck the girl, or she sucks him or jacks him off. He pays her an amount of money; she wipes off, or pisses, or shits, shoots up or she leaves to buy some drugs, sometimes she dies. The facility is built and kept up by the department of public works, the people that also makes nice parks and nice sidewalks in the city. The toleration zone is meant to eliminate the streetwalkers from the good city. Just chase them away like they do in other countries is not enough; you have to make a place to chase them to. Otherwise they keep coming back. When you look at a detailed map, the toleration zone will not show, because the mapping only lists things during the day, the zone is only active after 18.00. That is why, even if it is a public facility, cartographically it does not exist. This is a good representation of the toleration policy Holland specialises in, where soft drugs and prostitution are officially forbidden but unofficial toleration is an official policy, having produced its own hardware. More than this it shows how these areas cannot be characterised by a lack of control, or by alternative unplanned life forms thriving in urbanist-free zones, as is often done in periphery discourse. These areas rather contain unusual concentrations of power, sublimated in highly specialised urbanistic typologies.
The most important aspect of this dysfunctional family of places, is that over an enormous surface it exposes the local, small scale, incredibly mediocre and 'normal' urban neighbourhoods, villages and townships to the urban or post-urban conditions of what we used to call the periphery. On the other hand, they expose the huge abstract landscapes of globalised industry and infrastructure to local conditions of small scale empirical specificity. They are the analytical borderlands that Saskia Sassen saw between the global power centres and the local conditions, between the hi-tech and the archaic, between the sublime beauty of boats, containers, trucks, machines – them; and the poor huddled masses – us. The immense shoreline by which these two extremes meet means that on the whole the citizens live much closer to the red haze, than to the city centre, sometimes even than to the neighbourhood centre. Still, the citizen is expected to get his services, his shopping, his work, his feeling of citizenry from densely built-up urban cores that lie in the middle.
Given the amount of mutual exposure between the local and the global, the density of program and movement, and the fact that they structurally hold the city together, the red haze areas potentially perform the task of city centre much better than the centre itself. The problem is that there is hardly an urbanistic practice that is able to unlock the urban potentials of these places and connect them with the existing socio-economic and physical urban tissue. Such a practice would demand that the city be conceptually turned inside out. Instead of tissue grouping around a centre, tissue hanging in a frame. Secondly it demands looking out, instead of in; not so much in the spatial sense but in the political sense. Rather than stay in their safe havens, the urbanists would have to seek out areas determined by heterogeneous regulations and overlapping territorial claims. Thirdly it demands an idea about the city as a whole, a great big story, differentiating into an inclusive practice.
23. Come up.
In a project done for the city of Rotterdam we decided to uncover and prove the existence of the urban potentials of the red haze areas. We limited ourselves to extrapolating on what was already there, instead of adding so much program and so much form that the proposal would be convincing anyway, anywhere, anyhow. What we were after was reconfiguring the stuff that was already around, but that had never been seen as part of the city. We tried to create simple configurations that might work as points of exchange between urban zones that have always been isolated from each other. Realising these configurations would demand exchanges between institutions that up to this moment had functioned right next to each other without engaging. When we were asked to come up with new concepts and ideas for the city planners, we decided to create a collection of possibilities based on the existing hardware but on a radically different urbanist and political culture. The red haze areas are fundamentally connected to the latent wholeness of the city, to its network-like completeness, to its bigness and endlessness, to its most ambitious, most adventurous and most beautiful incarnation. On a more concrete level, the red haze areas presented the possibility of connecting the underprivileged parts of town with an immense field of urban possibility, and freeing them from their servile relationship to the disappointing city centre. To be honest we developed the pedantic idea that by presenting the public officials with the simple and beautiful results of a changed attitude towards urbanism they would change their attitude. The format our ideas took ranged from the immediately practical to the allegorical.
In our most classical figure we proposed that instead of keeping brainparks, a golf course, sports areas, new housing areas, infrastructure and vegetable gardens apart from each other in separate enclaves, as has happened in the northeast quadrant of the conurbation, an enclave could be devised where these elements are brought together in one new enclave. By sampling all the stuff that was already there and placing it in the existing framework of enclaves we came up with Putt City, an urban area developed by the golf club, of which the golf course plays the role of theme and village green.
But of course, to change the perspective on the city and on city planning, the kind of typical Dutch clever-clever pragmatism as shown above is not always enough; shock tactics are needed to bring out the slumbering newness of the existing conurbation. Another example: The extension plan for the area between Rotterdam and its airport has ground to a halt, because the different parties were unable to reach a compromise about their claims on the area. The city wanted to build 15.000 houses next to a lake and to relocate the airport; the government didn't want Rotterdam to relocate its airport, build houses next to it or even have an airport. This meant that the new highway to be built to the north of the relocated airport to alleviate the pressure on the existing road to the Hague was postponed indefinitely. Not agreeing on the right amount of restrictions on air traffic meant cutting off a whole string of important operations. We decided that the only way to solve the mutual rejection of airport and city, was to redefine them as one thing: airport city. To force upon our client the idea of the urbanity of the airport, or the air-portiness of the city, we devised this urbanistic emblem. The geometry of the runways is extrapolated into a pattern and cut into the program of the failed extension plan. It suggests something like the American airplane suburb Spruce Creek, where the people have a plane instead of a car, but most of all it is a flag to be waved for the acceptance of airports as pieces of urban hardware.
From the emblematic we move on to the allegorical: this is our idea for the Maasvlakte. Soon construction will start on the second Maasvlakte, and then on the third. The first extension only will be 1000 hectares of surface plus 750 hectares of nature surface to compensate for the harbour surface. At the same time ideas are on their way to eventually have an important airport on the Maasvlakte, because this is the only place free of anti-air traffic orgware and abounding in distance. Then there exists the serious possibility of double use of the new transport railway connecting the harbour to Germany. The 'impossibility' lies in the fact that the railway company has different departments for passengers and for goods. A thing already there is one of the strangest urbanist typologies ever created: R.I.S.C. Behind a high fence stand scorched buildings and vehicles, crashed and burnt out helicopters, in the canal lies the carcass of an equally dismal boat. Each day spectacular fights can be witnessed between Italian fire-fighters and a kerosene explosion, Swedish sailors and a nuclear leak, Dutch commando's and fire bombs. Every conceivable disaster or attack can be recreated one on one in this facility, so that new contingency plans can be developed.
The probable coexistence of nature, transport industry, a highway, an airport and the possibility of a railway effectively means a mixed-use development, it means that urbanity becomes possible albeit one of a completely unknown sort, in a fantastically spaced-out landscape. Most of all it invited urbanism. First we tied a knot, the highway and the railway were led around in a huge loop, touching the new airport. The train platform is a highway-exit is an arrival and departure hall is underneath a one kilometre long roof is the traincarairportbuilding. Secondly we drew a line: a long sweeping beach road with L.A.-like beachhouses built against the dunes. You drive your car on the roof and then walk down to the rooms looking out over the pale windswept beach of the new land. Then we built a sand castle: a one on one model of the centre of Rotterdam. What the R.I.S.C. facility seemed to lack was the possibility to simulate the real contingency of a disaster in a city: the fires breaking out after an earthquake, the looting after a plane crash, the panic after a biological attack, a football match etc. This is why we proposed enlarging the R.I.S.C. facility into a model of the centre of Rotterdam, where all kinds of disasters could be simulated in their full urban complexity.
We were excited by the idea of playing out the destruction of the centre of downtown Rotterdam again and again and again, amidst the uncaring emptiness of the Maasvlakte. We believed that to the traveller flying in, it would adequately sum up the two historical attributes of the city: its harbour and its bombing. We believe that as a graphic representation of an idea it shows the shocking discrepancy in scale of what is seen as the real city, where urbanism and civic symbolism is concentrated, and the conurbation in its real scale, its real artificiality. The idea was to scare the urbanists, public officials and politicians into the new, by presenting to them what looks like a real city but isn't, being dwarfed by what doesn't look like the real city but is.
To end in complete practicality, in utter banality, in demented populism, here is our proposal for the immense post-industrial void around the Feyenoord Soccer stadium. We developed an idea that would make the huge highway and railway based commercial activity work for the rundown post-war neighbourhoods lying behind them. By determining a small number of operations, we showed how the void could be made a point of access instead of a barrier, and how the introverted neighbourhoods that were losing their services and did not succeed in keeping up their parks, could profit from the fact that they lie behind Holland’s biggest soccer stadium, the highway and an enormous train yard; things that are considered a problem and a great injustice. The dumbest little idea was to propose that the great number of sports fields that usually fill up the area where nothing else may be done because of the law, be taken away and redistributed through the neighbourhoods. This way, the surplus of park green would become football green, it would be privately kept up by the clubs, it would perform its ideal function of collective public active space convincingly. The sports clubs would liberate the housing projects from their monofunctional collectivist inertia and of course the club’s canteen would bring back the neighbourhood pub. In other words, by slamming a peripheral nuisance function right into the vulnerable neighbourhood tissue, it is made to work again. We called this procedure building against the neighbourhood, 'bouwen tegen de buurt', as a compensation for the 'bouwen voor de buurt' (building for the neighbourhood), of the seventies.
The Rotterdam project meant stumbling in on the treasures of urbanism of negotiation; it is an investigation into how ideas can be distilled from the existing city and how they can be formatted to have maximum influence. In the end it is about building the ideal city, and about trusting on contemporary reality to supply us with its ingredients, instead of on the discipline of design or the power of state.
1 Frank Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics, Political Philosophy Beyond Fact and Value, Stanford University Press, Stanford Ca. 1996, p.282 /
2 Michael A. Speaks, It's out there... the formal limits of the American avant-garde, public lecture at the Berlage Institute Amsterdam, Fall 1997 /
3 Michael A. Speaks, Just There Modernism, a fresh new approach, in: Marijke Kuper (ed.) Nine + One, Ten young Dutch architectural offices, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam 1997, p.18-25 /
4 Max 1. Rotterdam, in: Marijke Kuper (ed.) Nine + One, Ten young Dutch architectural offices, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam 1997, p.47
with: Fenna Haakma Wagenaar, Chantal van der Zijl
client: Rotterdam Department of Housing & Planning
text edited by: Deborah Chay
contains samples from: Atelier van Lieshout, P. en F. Bakker Schut, Pietro Hammel, Jeff Koons, Maarten Laupman, Max 1., Mick Morssink, MVRDV, OMA, Port Authority Rotterdam, Christian Richters, Piet Rook, Tailwinds of Spruce Creek, World Press Photo