The building as a work of art –

The title is a no-brainer, there’s no escaping it. Anyone who has read my column ‘Ouwe starchitects’ and the publicity that followed will understand that. For those who haven’t, here’s a quick update: In 2018, the Kröller-Müller Museum asked the Japanese architect Tadao Ando to create a design for the expansion of the Rijksmuseum. In my piece I question this choice outside the tender rules, the choice for Ando, ​​and I wonder why there is nothing to find about the design. In interviews for De Volkskrant and Architectenweb, the museum’s manager gives answers. These are answers that raise even more questions. Here are a few.

“Tadao Ando is one reason to travel, that’s what people come for.” Is that right? I think it is the museum itself reason to travel. The Ando fan club is just a small, elitist group that is dwindling by the day, partly due to extinction and partly due to advancing insight. The concrete walls in simple forms, that’s what we found in the 20th centurye century very beautiful, but it turns out to be too one-dimensional, too architectural, too polluting. Leveraging new talent that takes into account all aspects of the construction process is much more interesting and important; we need buildings that excel in beauty and at the same time set an example in their positive impact on the environment.*

“Quist was very pleased with Ando’s plans…wrote him a wonderful letter in which he actually passes the baton.” It is commendable that Quist’s architecture is well treated by the Kröller-Müller Museum. Until just before his death, Quist was still at the top of his architectural legacy, and he undoubtedly passed this baton on to his heirs. It is also completely justified; Quist was one of the most important modern Dutch architects of the last century. But we also know that customers are afraid of the copyright on their buildings and the lawsuits that can be brought. So the question arises; has the museum perhaps hung its ears a little too much on Quist and his advisors?

“Museum Kröller-Müller has always chosen its own architects.” You hear the parent say it to the child; ‘because it is!’ But yes, times are changing and it is no longer possible for a national museum to choose its own architect. There are rules for that, after all, we are dealing here with the consumption of public funds. What about that?

“We see an architect as an artist, and you don’t have to outsource a work of art.” Some people find this an interesting question; Is architecture art or is it a craft? The answer is simple; architecture is neither. Architecture is architecture. The statement that architecture is art ignores the complex process of designing a building. For a work of art you need material and an artist. When you design and build a building, or its extension, you have to deal with a client, a budget, a program of requirements, the municipality, the user, a designer, an installer, a project manager, a schedule, the local residents, nature, safety, zoning plan, environmental laws, bats or other fauna to be protected, regulations regarding building physics, daylighting, lighting, ventilation, noise standards, usable area, passenger height, accessibility, technical details, insulation, damp proofing, waterproofing, keeping pests out, penetration resistance, maintenance, washability , and I could go on and on…

To say that a building is a work of art is therefore not only wrong, it is also harmful. It reduces the architect to someone who drops by with his magic pen and performs a stroke of genius. It ignores the mastery that the architect must be; social, professional, flexible, listening, directing, creative, with vision and knowledge of building. The grand gesture of the pen is only one aspect of the design. The design also lies in the way you handle the air treatment of a building, the position of the window frame in the wall, the proportions of the volumes, the material of the eaves, the tactility of the facade, the way the building turns the corner, the door handles, the lighting and the countless other decisions. The design never stops.

“And of course we had a legal assessment to see if it was possible.” This is where it gets interesting. BNA immediately filed a complaint about the course of events in 2018, and this complaint is declared eligible. The committee of tender experts argues that the way the Kröller-Müller Museum chose the architect is wrong; it cannot and must not. This led to statement 459: Architectural services cannot be awarded privately as unique works of art. How was this statement handled?

What now? The answer is simple. In the spirit of Helene Kröller-Müller, Ando can be paid and thanked for his artwork, which paves the way for a new selection of architects. Helene did it herself, in order to stick to the manager’s argumentative style. Previously, she fired both Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Hendrik Berlage, not the smallest architects either. Little is lost with the dismissal, because as the commercial director himself states, it is only a spot plan that Ando has made, the Kröller-Müller Museum is still at the beginning of the process.

I hope that this situation will not only lead to the correct selection of architects for the expansion of the Kröller-Müller Museum. I hope that the debate on the tendering method in the Netherlands will be held again at all levels and that something will change. The huge mountain of reactions to my previous column shows once again the frustration that prevails among Dutch architects with the procurement policy. In 2018, I wrote a comprehensive piece for NRC * about it. It is an experience policy where the same architects are selected every time, which means that there is too little innovation in Dutch architecture. This is not due to the rules, but their interpretation; it is the managers with too much of a hand in the game, who work from the perspective of risk management and it is the selection committees that contain the wrong expertise, so that the best architect is not chosen for the task, but the architect who can show that he has done it before.

* Both De Volkskrant and the NRC piece talk about young talent, but it is not necessary at all. Youth is not a criterion, talent is.

Marjolein van Eig is architect-director of BureauVanEi. Both in her work and in her monthly column, she connects contemporary issues with their historical roots. She is a guest lecturer at TU Delft and the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture.

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