Never do more than needed

That’s always been my point of view, both in design and, of course, architecture. On the one hand, working as an architect is very special, but in practice it actually fits me like a glove. It emerged from my own needs and my own ideals. In 2005, we bought an old, dilapidated water mill with a couple of outbuildings near Mavaleix in the Dordogne. Objects as such usually don’t excite me all that much, but I’ve always wanted to own a ruin. My dad and I used to map out long routes and we’d drive through England by car from one ruin to the next. Not many people understood, but they were wonderful holidays. So when I came across the mill, it hit a nerve. Discovering a broken building; learning to read how it’s put together and which solutions to apply to give it a new lease on life: it’s a process that always affects me. Need showing itself. The mill was built in an eighteenth-century canal. The stone for the quays came from the local quarry and the wood from the surrounding forest. That matches my approach exactly: to work with materials, techniques, crafts and possibilities that are locally available – but without being afraid to reshape them. It’s not an architecture that’s meant to be striking or even to dwell on. Rather, it’s an architecture that’s meant to disappear and, particularly, to dwell in. If you ask me what I consider an example of successful architecture, I’d recall a visit to Louisiana, the Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen. That building is part of the surrounding landscape. Every now and then, you see something like that succeed in modern architecture history; that kind of instrumentality, I mean. Many buildings seem better-suited to win a contest.

 

Never do more than needed

That’s always been my point of view, both in design and, of course, architecture. On the one hand, working as an architect is very special, but in practice it actually fits me like a glove. It emerged from my own needs and my own ideals. In 2005, we bought an old, dilapidated water mill with a couple of outbuildings near Mavaleix in the Dordogne. Objects as such usually don’t excite me all that much, but I’ve always wanted to own a ruin. My dad and I used to map out long routes and we’d drive through England by car from one ruin to the next. Not many people understood, but they were wonderful holidays. So when I came across the mill, it hit a nerve. Discovering a broken building; learning to read how it’s put together and which solutions to apply to give it a new lease on life: it’s a process that always affects me. Need showing itself. The mill was built in an eighteenth-century canal. The stone for the quays came from the local quarry and the wood from the surrounding forest. That matches my approach exactly: to work with materials, techniques, crafts and possibilities that are locally available – but without being afraid to reshape them. It’s not an architecture that’s meant to be striking or even to dwell on. Rather, it’s an architecture that’s meant to disappear and, particularly, to dwell in. If you ask me what I consider an example of successful architecture, I’d recall a visit to Louisiana, the Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen. That building is part of the surrounding landscape. Every now and then, you see something like that succeed in modern architecture history; that kind of instrumentality, I mean. Many buildings seem better-suited to win a contest.

 

The Logic of the Situation

For the architectural and constructional side of projects, I’ve partnered with Iggie Dekkers, a trained architect I share a mentality with. We’ve secured many architectural commissions, including the renovation of a sixteenth-century property called De Drie Haringen in Deventer, and an industrial monument from the post-war reconstruction period in Rotterdam. Totally different commissions, but in both we first looked for the most logical solution, the one that fit the situation best and that highlighted the special aspects of the building. Near our factory, the RAG building was recently completed: the first building realized by Eek & Dekkers architecture. Soon, some completely new ‘green dwellings’ will be built on the same site on Beeldbuisstraat. The RAG was previously a pumping station and we have transformed it into a small apartment complex. It took us a while to find the right approach, but here, too, the solution was implicit in the situation itself. We’ve divided the large factory building in two and created a beautiful inner street at its centre. This allows the sun to touch the heart of the building and includes the unusual construction with the steel trusses in the experience.

 

Philosophically

The longer term – in architecture, design, craft and even nature – has always played a role in my work. When I made the scrap-wood cabinets, that wasn’t just about the aesthetics of scrap wood or about linking up with ideas about sustainability. In the background, I was also hinting at the way we always seem to have to invent and consume new things. We shouldn’t just blindly pursue that, from a frivolous kind of futurism. Moreover, even if we would want to, we often can’t. IKEA, for example, asked me to design a new glass. When I went to France to visit the factory I found out that the method used to produce IKEA’s huge numbers were quite traditional: a large punch that presses glass into the desired shape. I concluded that we had to use that old industry to create something new. Eventually, we made glasses with a somewhat lopsided edge, so we changed something small and recreated the imperfection on a large scale; we allowed the huge numbers to play a part in the product. Solutions have to be embedded in the situation, place and society, or so I’ve learned. The world is our oyster, but it seems we find it hard to trust our intuition and create something positive. Sometimes you read something that totally supports the ideas you have in a given period. A few years ago, I read The Black Swan by American author Nassim Taleb. That book was published during the crisis and warned against too much implicit reliance on statistical observations. To me, that argument confirmed that following your own instincts, which needs a sharp eye and the courage to think out of the box, is often best.

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This interview was published in WOTH No2. This issue is still available in english via Bruil & van der Staaij. Or get a subscription here! 

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