Transition: Beyond the Cult of Imagery

Wiel Arets, An Alabaster Skin (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1991), 21-27.

Ours is a global age. As technology starts to destroy reality, living today entails acceleration—or deceleration—in order to pass from one code to another, to translate one impulse into another and to engage different situations from different vantage points. Architects do not believe in a conflict between mathematics and history. In the universal pictorial language in which the world unfolds, mathematics and geometry have become indispensable ingredients. Only since imaginary coordinates were drawn across the surface of the globe have we been able to chart the world and explore it. It is primarily through the creative power of mathematicians that we have made ourselves a place on Earth, a place that we can share with others.

This project begins with the assumption that any application of mathematics to our view of the world brings the challenge of the grid. For architects, the grid is a way of spiritualizing the Earth and freeing it from the burden of gravity. The planetary architecture thus advocated here has no other goal than to make the sea and the town of Domburg participate in this challenge.

By doing this, our design converts a seaside resort into a social condenser, giving everyone the opportunity to relax as he or she chooses. Each can go their own way without disturbing the others. Those who wish to play golf can drive directly to the course; for those who want to swim or sunbathe, the sea will not be spiritualized, elevated to an object of meditation, as it is for those temporarily or permanently occupying the transparent tower blocks along the boulevard.

Traffic circulates along a kilometer-long boulevard. A ribbon of shops, swimming pools, galleries and restaurants is introduced between the traffic level and promenade area. Next to and above them are conference rooms, hotels and villas.

Domburg, while remaining as it is, will become imbedded, like a pearl in an oyster, in an elegant grid like structure in which the sea’s gray northern light dissolves everything material into a spatial state. This recreation can mean recreation.

The design is organized by four ideas: the grid, the social condenser, translucence and disorder.

The grid is the place where spirit and the material, intellect and the material, become harmonious. It is ethereal and incorporeal material and at the same time immaterial, a spiritual entity that has taken on palpable form. The grid today is ubiquitous: in television screen dots, on computer chips, as radiation in the air; it is all around us and passes though us. The grid is our destiny and our future.

In our desire to render the grid visible we frequently opt for translucent material; penetrating light is important. We have no secrets. We want the architecture to bathe in the transparent northern light of Domburg and the North Sea, making it truly a 'place'. And this is where the grid, stripped of all symbolism, comes in.

Our buildings are social condensers in that their identity derives from their function regarding circulation. Vehicles and pedestrians are led between buildings and then brought to a halt. This deceleration transforms and 'sorts' the traffic so that everyone can seek the place of recreation that attracts him/her the most. The buildings are designed so that one may enter and leave quickly yet pass between them slowly to make one’s choice and park one’s car. The complex should therefore be understood as an intervention to which the traffic is subjected as a solution to traffic problems. It is not that the complex stands on the road; rather, the complex is the road. And as every road is a detour, so too is this complex. The detour takes the form of a Z bend in which Domburg and then the sea swing into view. This detour is a disorder, not just a disorder of road and grid but a disorder of the road which becomes a detour, and a disorder of the road that becomes a disordered grid. This 'disordered grid' is our way of criticizing the increasing tendency of our society in general and the modern movement in particular to have everything function free of friction and disorder.

Whereas modern architecture is primarily a hygienic architecture, pure, unblemished and imperturbable, we on the other hand accept imperfection, noise and disorder as an essential element of modern technology. Our ideas are not upset but, quite the reverse, stimulated by collisions with information and concepts, concepts that can be interpreted not simply as opposition but as accelerators or condensers of our ideas.  

Technology, particularly information technology, consists in large part of translating codes: electronic impulses are turned into images; magnetic material is decoded into data. During the translation of these codes and the transformation of logistics and information, things are likely to go wrong at times. Equally, traffic involves acceleration but deceleration, not just orderly progress but bottlenecks and snarls.

Whereas much architecture usually is intended to keep things running smoothly, we advocate the rational acceptance of rhythm. We do not try to avoid conflict but welcome it as an indispensable element of communication.

Finally this design attempts to strip architecture of the cult of imagery and attain an 'Architecture of Freedom'. At present architecture does nothing other than attract and titillate its spectators is every way possible. It tries to create the most powerful images in conductive places, to draw the public into metropolitan life.

With these projects we wish to break this code of imagery. Instead of using architecture to endear a place to the public, people are relieved of their obligation to respond to architecture. That we are able to see Domburg and the sea from these buildings is not the only issue. Of far greater relevance is the fact that aided by this project, Domburg itself should acquire the gift of sight, and it is Domburg that should see the sea.