The exhibition Architecture of Appropriation forms the start of a research project into the effects of appropriation tactics on architecture. What does this issue mean for Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman of ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles), the design practice that designed an installation for the exhibition?
Architecture and squatting are two terms that are not normally associated with each other. Kristian Koreman: ‘Squatting is the appropriation of an existing building and, where necessary, taking control of it. Architecture is the creation of a building from nothing. Even if an architect works with an existing building, he begins by analysing it as a whole and making a plan. The squatter comes in, installs a workshop-cum-living room and from there begins to colonise the rest of the building.’ This latter way of working is familiar to Van Boxel and Koreman: it is similar to how they set to work in the Schieblock, the cultural collective building in which they have their office. ‘We moved in as ‘anti-kraak’ residents (property guardians) and gradually began to renovate the whole building. We then took over the street-level units and eventually colonised the entire area in a certain sense.’
For ZUS, it was important to provide a very direct entry to Gallery III, the exhibition space where Architecture of Appropriation is displayed. As Van Boxel explains, ‘In this way you physically experience the dynamic of appropriation’.
‘We looked at the tactics of squatting and imagined how we could create architecture from them: a gesture that is designed, but which exudes the idea of appropriation.’
Once inside, visitors find themselves in the workshop/living room from which they will explore the exhibition. ‘We have made the various spaces as performative as possible. In the first space visitors can get to work in the archive in the give-away shop. Right at the back is the ‘kitchen’ where knowledge can be shared and conversations take place: gatherings and meetings are an essential part of squatting. The installation is largely composed of re-used materials, even the stairs are built from three old staircases that have been fused to create a single unit.’
The designers from ZUS are interested in the influence of appropriation tactics not only at the level of the building but also on the larger scale of the city. ‘From our involvement in the Schieblock and from our other projects, we are intensely interested in alternative development methods, in particular in relation to ownership. How can we ensure an honest division of living and working spaces today? The most important claim that the squatters have made is: the city belongs to everyone, and everyone should have access to the city, whereas for decades the major trend has been towards privatisation. Even phenomena such as Airbnb and flex work, which superficially build upon the dynamic strategies of the 1960s and 1970s, are dictated by large corporations. What began as an anarchic participation economy has now become completely capitalist. In the Schieblock and the Delftsehof we have formed a cooperative with many different parties in order to promote as much diversity as possible between big and small users.’
Van Boxel and Koreman have also been involved in the discussions at Het Nieuwe Instituut for the establishment of a Ministry of Spatial Affairs. This series of discussions is based on the notion that nationwide spatial planning cannot be left merely to local governments and individual platforms and initiatives, as has largely been the case since 2010. How do the bottom-up strategies featured in Architecture of Appropriation relate to the desire for a centralised direction? ‘They really need each other,’ emphasises Koreman. ‘In 2007 in our book Re-public (ZUS published this book when the practice won the Maaskant Prize for young architects, LH) we exposed the two directions for architecture. Also to find out how we wanted to work. What is needed to keep the city dynamic? We are committed to involving people in the design process who do not usually get a chance to participate. But we are also aware that the city and the nation faces great challenges that cannot all be solved from below.’
‘The Ministry is a plea for long-term thinking,’ explains Van Boxel. ‘Spatial policy has become fragmented: too many different agencies are involved. We have encountered that in the large projects we’ve worked on. That’s why we’re working on a plan that we call Delta 3000 in which we plead for extreme forward thinking about the future of the Netherlands. We have to do this now so that we don’t literally get submerged by rising sea levels and soil erosion. This is not only about holding back the seawater but also about the built environment, infrastructure and agriculture.
‘For us, the appropriation strategies at the level of the user and of nationwide spatial planning are two sides of the same coin.’
ZUS believes that it is time for an organised architecture. ‘There was once an engaged architecture community that took an interest in spatial planning, for example in CIAM and Team 10, but also later during the AIR manifestations. This pooling of forces is now largely lacking. How can we create a bottom-up ministry, not as an institution but as a movement, comparable with the democratic renewal that the writer David Van Reybrouck is thinking about?’
And what do these appropriation strategies mean for the discipline? What does ZUS think architects and urban planners can learn from the squatters’ tactics? ‘The city is constantly changing,’ says Koreman. ‘Urban space is being used in very different ways for various aims. If that principle becomes the starting point for the development of architecture and urban planning, in the future we will probably have to make less tight-fitting bespoke suits.’
Interview: Lotte Haagsma