The third edition of our series of FA-discussions on Wednesday, June 15 at De Verdieping, a cultural project space located in an abandoned printing plant in Amsterdam, covered three different examples of fiercely debated architecture; buildings that were or are doomed to fail due to their location in the built environment, their time of conception and usability.
Maybe the most famous Dutch example of how opinion-forming on architecture works is the ‘Zwarte Madonna’, a former 350-apartment block in the inner city of The Hague. The building by architect Carel Weeber was heavily criticized during its life span (1985-2007). As several government departments in 2001 made a decision for the extension of their office blocks in the direct vicinity, the curtains fell for the black lady. However, public opinion altered after this decision. Some inhabitants resisted moving out, delaying the demolition process for almost six years. Attempts from their side to ‘pimp’ the building failed. According to one critic, painting the Zwarte Madonna would be equal to ‘putting lipstick on a gorilla’.
According to Dutch publicist Paul Groenendijk, it was not architecture that failed in this case, but politics. In a similar plea Fred Feddes made two months ago, Groenendijk asked for more thoughtfulness from politicians when assessing architecture. After all, it is politicians who decide over the fate of our built environment.
Political tides can influence the assessment of architecture in more radical ways as well. In Belgrade, the exhibition ground ‘Staro Sajmište’ has been neglected ever since the end of the Second World War. Built in 1938 to host international fairs Staro Sajmište was meant to promote the economy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The German Gestapo designated the ground as a concentration camp in 1941, giving the place an ever-lasting legacy. Tito’s post war communist regime was focussed on the future, not on the past, building monuments that symbolized Yugoslavian unity and prosperity. Therefore, the place had to dissolve in collective oblivion.
In recent years, discussions aroused over the future of the ground. Dutch-Serbian architect Maja Popovic would like to see a lively centre of tolerance on the ground, rather than another silent monument. This year, a website was launched to discuss visions on the future of the ground.
Staro Sajmište may become a tourist landmark one day, just like the impressive row of modernist museums that have opened up all over Europe in recent years. During the last talk of the evening, Ana Souto, lecturer in architecture at Nottingham Trent University, elaborated on the influence of these museums and their architecture on urban and national identity.
The main question was whether museum architecture should be iconic or not to achieve the goals of identity forming and attracting tourists. Most of the recently opened museums Souto has researched are situated in Europe’s economic and cultural periphery, located far of the touristic radar. A high profile museum should not be seen as the panacea for all the social and economic problems these cities have, says Souto. Furthermore, she made a firm plea in favour of ‘uniconic’ architecture, approving with how Berlin’s Neues Museum has recently been renovated.
The Failed Architecture lecture series will be back in September. In the meantime, we will keep you updated via our blog, Facebook and Twitter. Also, we would like to emphasize that our blog is open to interesting entries and discussions at all time.