Conversation with Liesbeth van der Pol about freedom in design

“The building you design is there, and it must be in good relation to people. That is why it must be so full of character, «says architect Liesbeth van der Pol from Dok Architecten in the podcast. “It does not always have to be strong or cool, it can also be sensitive or vulnerable, but it must have a character. And that is what you as an architect must put in. ”

Liesbeth has several drawing pads on her desk and at home, on which she makes watercolors of the projects she works on. The watercolors start with pencil, then the ink comes in, then the pencil is erased, and then there are several layers of watercolor paint. Both the ink and the paint need to dry, so it takes several days before each watercolor is ready. And both that time and the craft help her think about designs, reflect on them, and ultimately arrive at the right character.

There is such enormous pressure on projects because there is so much money involved that it is not easy as an architect to distance yourself from the designers, Liesbeth explains in the podcast. Making watercolors supports her in this. And sometimes she makes a watercolor to find out what character the building should not have, she says. It is, of course, a creative process.

In her watercolors, she usually sketches the project from different perspectives: three-dimensional, with the floor plan and in profile. But this varies depending on the project. The characters also sometimes mix with each other, which she actually only finds interesting. A selection of her watercolors will be exhibited next autumn at Kunstlinien in Almere.

Making watercolors is an exponent of how Van der Pol approaches the architectural profession. She finds it important to design from within herself, to design what she and her team think is best for the task, and not to be held back by what others in the field think. For example, she designed a neighborhood in Den Bosch with white villas that flash to (neo) classicism in their white wooden tympanums and columns. And then she designed a gracefully brick parking garage in Zwolle, which she, inspired by caravanserai in Central Asia, also imagines as a meeting place and has therefore been provided with a decorative layer. She also found it a huge challenge to design a villa that combines the axes of symmetry of the Palladio with the rawness of the industrial buildings. The client wanted it that way, and it challenged Liesbeth to find beauty in that imperfection. A perfect man is worth nothing, she states; it is the imperfections that make it interesting.

In Liesbeth’s designs, the character of the building expresses the location, the program and the initiators’ ambition. You can see that character as a kind of extended functionality. This is well illustrated by her design for the Huis van de Wijk in Deventer. There, she was asked to transform a generic office from the 1980s into a community center. By providing the facade with new insulation and stucco, and laying horizontal wooden slats across it, the old building disappeared from view. Then she drew a bulging canopy on top of the building in the same stucco, which is lit from below in the evening. In this way, the building has literally and figuratively become the glorious center of the district.

The design for The George has just such a rational basis. In the still very commercial Zuidas, something is needed to create an attractive living environment, says Liesbeth. The target audience for the building that BPD had planned was somewhat older. But it is a group that is still full of life, wants to enjoy it enormously, and at the same time also wants to live very healthy, she analyzes. In addition, the ambition to design a building where nature would emphatically have a place.

To the south, on the Boelegracht, Liesbeth drew a waterfall of terraces to The George, where the green would fall beyond the balcony edges. The houses’ strong orientation on these outdoor spaces resulted in a very closed north facade. Without windows to work with, this facade required a very different approach. In the podcast, Liesbeth tells how she designed this, how she grasped this facade almost as a drawing and as a textile, and how she ultimately plays with the weight that architecture can also have, and how she nuances that weight at the same time by use glazed bricks to seek the relationship to heaven.

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