ERIK RIETVELD

Interview by Jina Khayyer

In the field of architecture there is a long history of being aware that what you do, what you build, has consequences for society.

What I think is really important, rather than making one particular statement that is political, is that as a maker, you are always aware that the things that you’re making have political consequences
and are also saying something about the way you think the word could be and should be, how things could be different. It’s really important that when you make something, you can set new developments in motion through the things that you are making.

In 2010, we were invited by the ministry of education and science of the Netherlands to represent them at the Venice Biennale. What we were fascinated by was the vacancy of 10.000 public and government buildings in the Netherlands. Imagine 10.000 buildings, it’s a huge amount in such a small country. Many of these buildings were amazing, like vacant airbases, vacant palaces, vacant school buildings, police buildings, and so on. What we saw was an enormous sea of potential resources that could be used temporarily, basically for attracting talent from all over the world to the Netherlands.

What we did in the Venice installation in the Dutch pavilion was to, basically, keep the ground floor of the pavilion empty, and make a large art installation floating in the air. We made a stair in the pavilion so when you would enter and see it from above, you would suddenly see this enormous sea of 10.000 vacant buildings made out of a blue foamy material that reflects the light in the Rietveld pavilion which is one of the main qualities of the Dutch pavilion in Venice.

When, for instance, city makers build new parts of a town, they often forget to think of how people from different subcultures will be able to meet, nowadays city builders think more about optimising the monetary value of what they are building, rather than in creating a good public domain.
A good public domain is a place where people from different social-cultural backgrounds can meet and sometimes do meet, and that’s of course very important in a time where migration is increasing, and where you would like to avoid that people live along each other rather than encounter each other and engage with each other.

Currently we are working on what we call ‘historically burdened cultural heritage’. That’s a project that started with a bunker that we cut some years ago. The bunker was a monument, but it was used in the Second World War and became a monument over time. We sliced it open by cutting away a part of the bunker, transforming it into an art work.
Such a way of dealing with historically burden territories, where people still feel the presence of what happened there once, and when you transform an object into an art work it speaks more to the imagination of people then if you just preserve it.

When I think of space, I think not in terms of space in my head, and also not in terms of just the physical space out there that you can measure, for example, but I see space as this rich landscape of possibilities. So space becomes something that you are in touch with because you are able to respond to the possibilities around you. So I see space as the field of affordances on which you have a grip on in a particular situation.