While their cities’ once-exemplary housing system is dismantled and the national social-housing stock plummets, Dutch architects remain silent
Compared with countries such as Germany and France, the Netherlands has produced few great thinkers, but a huge number of famous painters, designers and other image producers. Today, this image-led culture has become obsessive and unhealthy for the architecture sphere, infatuated by the production of eye-catching buildings collecting likes on Instagram and shaping skylines the world over. While the ‘Superdutch’ (global fame is still reserved to a happy few) know how to design and discuss great public buildings, there is a deafening silence when it comes to the larger issue of housing.
Exactly one century ago, the Amsterdam School social-housing projects were under construction. Many of them still stand today, including Rotterdam’s Justus van Effen estate. In the 1920s, JJP Oud’s workers’ housing followed, icons of the International Style. The proud affordability and radical innovation of this architecture, as well as the united work of politicians, planners, tenant associations and architects to invest in proper housing and forward-looking architecture for the many, are monumental to this day. A few decades later, Bakema, Hertzberger, Van Eyck and other poster boys (even today, it is still mostly boys) showed their engagement – political winds at the time made it easier to have an agenda and get paid for it, but they did voice themselves.
Today’s endless scroll of glorious Dutch architecture shows no social imagination. With help from the architectural community, a serious offensive could take shape and bless progressive politics with the future visions it so desperately lacks. OMA’s Rem Koolhaas, MVRDV’s Winy Maas, Mecanoo’s Francine Houben, and UNStudio’s Ben van Berkel get prime-time TV and mainstream publications coverage. Yet, since even the architectural media seem to have gone quiet on the topic of housing, the engagement and authority of influencers is desperately needed to spark a change.