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Column Adriaan Mout | Modernism and an empty trunk

21 February 2019

Cobouw adriaan mout 190411 modernisme en een lege kofferbak

Thanks to Dutch politicians, the architecture discussion has come back to life on architecture platforms and even in the newspapers. The coverage of the renovation of Het Binnenhof, an historic building complex and the quarter of the Dutch government, and the rhetoric about the state elections have led many architects and critics to the pen.

The discussion seems to narrow to the contrast between modernist-traditionalists or in other words: the nurturing of what we had versus the search for innovation that accommodates a changing society. That this contradiction is far too simple, was convincingly refuted by our branch organization BNA in their pamphlet ‘Long live the architecture, celebrate the differences!’

Last week I visited Unité d’Habitation with fellow architects, a residential building from 1952 in Marseille designed by Le Corbusier, our childhood hero and one of the founders of modernism. We were overwhelmed by all facets of this building, developed to the very last beautiful detail. A building with progressive technological experiments, use of communal facilities and application of new access and housing typologies.

Compare that with our current construction context. Despite the boom, this seems to be driven by Excel sheets that threaten to crush every experiment in advance. While we need research, idealism, experiment and innovation. All this at the service of a truly changing society, such as Le Corbusier in Marseille.

But let’s also keep an eye out for the pitfalls and the other zeitgeist of our modern teachers. In today’s changing society, scale, context and anchoring in a city play an important role. And in this the Unité, unapproachable, literally lifted and thereby torn away from its surroundings, no longer connects to our time. We found that when we returned to the car: all our luggage was stolen! Our modernist euphoria was tempered. But in the end, it’s not about style, it’s about creating good architecture that accommodates change and is also resistant to change.

April 2019,