In a nice counter twist to the Koolhaas Biennale dictat of “architecture not architects”, the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale this year celebrates the work of Jaap Bakema (1914–1981), an architect yes, but one whom, as one of the Pavilion’s curators, Guus Beumer, says “dissolved in his own project”.
His “project” was that of democratisation, of building an “open society” – democratic, egalitarian and inclusive, one that in the postwar Dutch Welfare State suddenly seemed possible. As Beumer’s fellow curator Dirk van den Heuvel says, Bakema, successfully brought “avant-garde ideas into the mainstream of culture”. As such his work epitomises an idea of modernity but not “in terms of utopia or distopia... but about a practice”. And Bakema’s practice was responsible for designing several of the key postwar urban projects in the Netherlands, such as the Lijnbaan shopping centre in Rotterdam (1948–1953) and the town hall in Terneuzen (1963–1972). It is architecture that has what van den Heuvel calls a “laconic” ordinaryness, articulated yet generous in its design, allowing every occupant to be themselves.
Guus Beumer and Dirk van den Heuvel talked to Jeanette Kunsmann and Stephan Becker about “the beautiful drama” of Bakema’s work, revealed in an exhibition, rich in archival material.
Interview by Jeanette Kunsmann and Stephan Becker, BauNetz
Text by Rob Wilson