Wiel Arets was born in Heerlen, the Netherlands, in 1955. His father was a printer and his mother was a fashion designer, and from them he learned both the love of books and reading, as well as a deep respect for craft, materials and making. Heerlen, an ancient town founded by the Romans, located in the Limburg region in the south of the country, near the borders of both Belgium and Germany, was from 1896 to 1966 the center of an important coal industry. As a result, the people of Heerlen were drawn from all over Europe, and together formed a strongly multicultural society. Arets grew up speaking four languages; French, German, Dutch and the regional dialect of Limburg. One of Arets’ grandfathers was a farmer, from whom he learned a respect for the unique aspects of the landscape of the Limburg region, while his other grandfather was a mining engineer, from whom he gained an abiding interest in technology.

Intensely involved as a youth in soccer, and initially drawn to study physics, having been inspired by the first man landing on the moon, Arets decided to focus on architecture after his grandfather gave him a book on the history of the Dutch house. After completing engineering school in Heerlen, he attended architecture school at the Technical University Eindhoven (TU/e), where, in addition to his classes and studio work, he spent three hours in the library every day. Among the writers who most inspired Arets from his youth was Paul Valéry, whose lifelong writing project, the Cahiers (Notebooks), Arets read in the original French, and Giorgio Grassi, whose La construzione logica dell’ architettura Arets translated into Dutch while a student. In addition, Arets has always been inspired by the works and thinking of the filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. It was at this time that Arets developed his admiration for the dialogue as an operative method, as exemplified by Valery’s “Eupalinos, or the Architect,” Cesar Cattaneo’s “Giovanni e Giuseppe: Dialoghi d’architettura,” and Plato’s Politeia.

While still in school, Arets undertook research in the archives and library of F.P.J. Peutz, an architect who built over 500 works in Heerlen, including the Town Hall and the Glaspaleis, which Arets would renovate and restore in 2004. In 1981, Arets organized an exhibit on Peutz at the TU/e, and co-authored the book, F.P.J. Peutz Architekt 1916-1966, a 386-page catalog that to this day remains one of the few studies on this important architect. While still a student, Arets co-founded the journal Wiederhall; organized a series of visiting lectures at the TU/e by architects such as Zaha Hadid (her first lecture after graduating from the Architectural Association London), Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk; organized the first European exhibit of the work of Tadao Ando; as well as organizing student research trips to Paris, to study the work of Le Corbusier and others; Como and Milan, to study the work of the Italian Rationalists; and several cities in Russia, to study the work of the Russian Constructivists.

Upon graduating from the TU/e in 1983, Arets went on a six-week research trip to Japan, where he met and wrote articles for the Dutch magazine De Architect on the work of Ando, Fumihiko Maki, Itsuko Hasegawa, Kazuo Shinohara and Riken Yamamoto, as well as visiting the traditional Japanese gardens of Kyoto, including the most famous, Ryōan-ji. Upon returning Arets opened his own office in Heerlen in 1984, where in the next years he designed his two most important early works, the Academy of Art and Architecture in Maastricht (1989-93) and the AZL Pension Fund Headquarters in Heerlen (1990-95), both of which were published in monographic form, and both of which received international awards, including the Maastricht Academy being included among the “1,000 Best Buildings of the 20th Century” by the International Union of Architects.

Arets’ body of work also received early recognition through the Rotterdam Maaskant Award of 1989, named in honor of the architect Hugh Maaskant and awarded biannually to the leading young architect in the Netherlands; the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture “Emerging Architect” in 1994; and the publications Wiel Arets Architect (1989, Best Dutch Book Design Award); An Alabaster Skin: Wiel Arets Architect (1991); Maastricht Academy: Wiel Arets Architect (1994); Wiel Arets: Strange Bodies (1996, German Design Award); Wiel Arets (1998); Wiel Arets: AZL Heerlen (010, 1999); and monograph issues of the international publications Architecture + Urbanism (Japan, 1994), El Croquis (Spain, 1997), and C3 (South Korea, 1999).

Since shortly after the beginning of his architectural practice, Arets has continuously maintained a parallel “career” as a professor in schools of architecture. Starting in 1986, Arets taught at the Architecture Academies of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and from 1988-1992 he was invited by Alvin Boyarsky to teach the Diploma Masters Unit One at the Architectural Association in London. During this time, Arets organized research trips for his students to the Villa Malaparte in Capri, designed by the writer Curzio Malaparte, where they were among the first to enter the house after its return to the family from the Chinese government (resulting in Arets’ ground-breaking article on the design of the house in the AA Files, “Casa Come Me”); to Hong Kong to study the walled city of Kowloon; as well as to Mexico City to study the work of Luis Barragán. From 1990-1994, Arets was invited by Dean Bernard Tschumi to teach at Columbia University in New York; in 1992 he was invited by Dean John Hejduk to teach at Cooper Union, also in New York; and from 1992-1994 Arets was invited by Dean Herman Hertzberger to teach in the Berlage School of Architecture in Amsterdam, where it was housed in Aldo van Eyck’s Municipal Orphanage.

From 1995-2002, Arets was the Dean of the Berlage Institute School of Architecture, which moved from Amsterdam to Rotterdam during his tenure. He reorganized the institute as a research laboratory focused on thematic issues of contemporary urban importance at both the national and global scale, and offering the PhD degree. Under Arets’ direction, the Berlage Institute became a leading center of international debate and speculation on the future of architecture and urbanism. During his fifth year as Dean, Arets was appointed as full Professor of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at Delft University of Technology, the foremost architectural research institution in the Netherlands, an appointment he held from 2001-2009. Arets also co-founded the journal Hunch as a way of documenting and presenting the research work of the school. From 2004-2012, Arets was a tenured Professor at the UdK, Berlin University of the Arts , Germany, as well as teaching as a Guest Professor at selected schools including the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, the Barcelona School of Architecture (ETSAB), the RWTH Technical University of Aachen, and Washington University in St. Louis. He also served from 2003-2014 on the Advisory Council for the Princeton University School of Architecture.

In autumn 2012 Arets was appointed Dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture (IIT CoA), in Chicago, Illinois, USA, along with being appointed the Rowe Family College of Architecture Dean Endowed Chair, both positions that he held until 2017. Under his leadership, the IIT CoA restructured its curriculum so as to culminate in the innovative “horizontal studio”—a school-wide educational and research laboratory in which students in all degree programs (B.Arch, M.Arch, MLA, and PhD), work together on research and design topics related to the metropolis, undertaken with the guidance and with criticism from internationally recognized visiting teachers and lecturers. While at IIT, Arets also conceived and launched the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP), a parallel to the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, also known as the Mies van der Rohe Award. The MCHAP program awards buildings realized in North and South America during two-year cycles, beginning with the inaugural awards in 2014.

Starting in 1995 with the Stealth furniture line produced by Lensvelt, Arets has been involved in product design in both mass and limited production. Since 2001 he has designed almost one hundred products for the Italian company Alessi, including the Il Bagno dOt series of bathroom fixtures, a salt shaker, pepper mill, corkscrew, coffee maker, mixer, coffee-tea-milk-sugar set, espresso cup, saucer and spoon, tableware, cutlery and other kitchen products, as well as jewelry, a mobile phone, and a wristwatch; in 2009 and 2015 Arets received the Good Design Award for his designs for Alessi. Arets has also worked with the jewelry maker Leon Martens, as well as designing chairs, tables and other furniture pieces that have gone into production, including the B’kini Chair by Gutzz, the Jellyfish Chair by Quinze & Milan, the Siamese Chair by Lensvelt, and the LRC outdoor furniture line, also by Lensvelt. As with the early Stealth furniture line, designed for the AZL Pension Fund Headquarters, most of Arets’ product designs have originated in parallel with his architectural commissions.

In 1997, Arets built his home and office in Maastricht, where his practice then moved from Heerlen. A second office was opened in Amsterdam in 2004, and a third office was opened in Zürich in 2008. A life-long fascination with Japanese culture, resulting in many trips to that country over the years, culminated in Arets designing and building his own house in Tokyo , completed in 2014. In 1997, Arets was one of ten finalists in the competition to design the addition to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and from 1995-1999 he saw realized a series of four innovative police stations in the Dutch cities of Vaals, Cuijk, Boxtel, and Heerlen, designed in response to the national charge to make the police stations more accessible and open to the public they serve. Arets’ innovative Hedge House in Wijlre of 2001, an art gallery, greenhouse, tool shed and chicken coop sited in and beneath the hedge-walled working garden of an historic castle, was published widely, including in the New York Times.

The University Library Utrecht  was completed in 2004 and can rightly be considered Arets’ most important work from the middle years of his career. The building, which has become the 24 hour, 7 day a week center of student life on its ex-urban campus, was the subject of the monograph, Living Library: Wiel Arets (2005, designed by renowned book designer Irma Boom and receiving the Best Dutch Book Design Award), as well as the site and subject of a ballet staged by the Dutch National Ballet in the library during its construction. In 2005 Arets received the the Rietveld Prize, the Concrete Award, and the Mies van der Rohe Award Nomination for the design of the University Library Utrecht, and that same year he received the BNA Kubus Award for his entire oeuvre.

Throughout his career, Arets has consistently employed the commissions for single-family houses to transform the received interpretations of domestic life and the spaces of inhabitation. These include the Villa van Zanten in Lisse of 2000; the G House in Lanaken, Belgium of 2008; the H House in Maastricht of 2010; the V House in Maastricht of 2013; and the Jellyfish House in Mirabella, Spain of 2013. It is interesting to note that this series is bracketed by Arets’ designs for his own family homes, starting with his house and office in Maastricht of 1997, and recently being extended with the A House in Tokyo of 2014. Arets has also engaged a significant number of commissions that involve the renovation and extension of existing buildings in historic urban centers, beginning with the Beltgens Fashion Shop in Maastricht of 1987 (Victor de Stuers Award); the Glaspaleis restoration and renovation in Heerlen of 2004; Gallery Borzo in Amsterdam of 2006; Hotel Zenden in Maastricht of 2009; De Nieuwe Liefde in Amsterdam of 2011 (Geurt Brinkgreve Bokaal Award); and the Post in Maastricht of 2013 (Victor de Stuers Award).

Over the past more than twenty years, Arets has designed and built a series of innovative and highly successful urban multi-family housing projects, both in the Netherlands and abroad, including the Hoge Heren tower in Rotterdam of 2001; the Pradalongo Housing in Madrid of 2008; the Four Towers Osdorp in Amsterdam of 2009, for which Arets received the Amsterdam Architectural Prize in 2010; the B Tower in Rotterdam of 2013; the E Tower in Eindhoven of 2013; the Blumenhaus in Zürich of 2016; The Double in Amsterdam of 2018; the Antwerp Tower, a renovation and extension of an existing building, of 2020; as well as the related designs for the AvB Tower in The Hague of 2013, which combines university classrooms and student apartments, and the Van der Valk Hotel in Amsterdam of 2020. In these apartment buildings Arets has reconceived the nature of contemporary urban domestic life, including the furnishings and plumbing fixtures, many of which are drawn from his Il Bagno dOt and LaCucina designs for Alessi. The transformative nature of Arets’ domestic designs is evidenced in the collaborative book by the photographer Ellen Kooi, the writer Katrien Van den Brande, and Arets documenting a series of events staged in the B Tower in Rotterdam and titled, Ellen Kooi Above Rotterdam: One Glass Tower by Wiel Arets & Nine Situations Katrien Van den Brande, published in 2016.

Important works realized by Arets in more recent years include the Sports Campus Leidsche Rijn in Utrecht of 2006; the Stadium Euroborg and Europapark in Groningen of 2006; the Schwäbischer Verlag headquarters in Ravensburg, Germany of 2013 (German Sustainable Building Council Silver Certification); the Campus Hoogvliet in Rotterdam of 2014; and the Regiocentrale Zuid in Maasbracht of 2014. One of Arets’ most important recent designs is the Allianz Headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland (AIT Innovation Award for Architecture and Technology, Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award), completed in 2014, which involved a comprehensive re-conception of the nature of office buildings, as well as one of the most technically advanced breathing curtain walls yet realized. In 2010, Arets won the competition to design the expansion of the IJhal at the Central Station in Amsterdam, completed in 2017 (Amsterdam Architecture Prize), and in 2012 he won the competition to design Europaallee “Site D” in Zürich, adjacent to the train tracks and a short distance from the Central Station, which was completed in 2020. It should be noted that many of Arets’ commissions result from competitions, and among Arets’ important unrealized designs, in which he developed important ordering concepts, are those for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a competition of 2008-09; the A Tower in Amsterdam of 2010; the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, a competition of 2010-2013; and the Cathedral and Cape City in Cape Coast, Ghana of 1997-2013.

Arets’ increasing stature in the profession through the years has been indicated not only by the awards that his work has received, but also by his being selected to participate in some of the most important design juries in contemporary architecture: Jury member for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, known as the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2001; President of the Jury for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, in 2012; President of the Jury for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture/Mies van der Rohe Award, in 2013; and President of the Jury for the inaugural Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize in 2014.

A series of books have been published in conjunction with Arets’ period as Dean of IIT, and the parallel Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize he founded at IIT, including NOWNESS: IIT Architecture 2013-2014 (IITAC/Actar, Design & Digital Award, 2014), presented Arets’ vision of architectural education at the beginning of his tenure; MCHAP 1: The Americas (IITAC/Actar, Best Dutch Book Design Award, 2017), documenting the first MCHAP awards cycle of 2014; the forthcoming MCHAP 2: The Americas (IITAC/Actar), documenting the second MCHAP awards cycle of 2016; the forthcoming MCHAP 3: The Americas (IITAC/Actar), documenting the second MCHAP awards cycle of 2018;  Treacherous Transparencies by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (IITAC/Actar, 2016); Alvaro Siza Vieira: A Pool in the Sea (IITAC/Actar, 2018); Crown Hall Dean’s Dialogues, 2012-2017 (IITAC/Actar, 2017), documenting eighteen student-led discussions held with visiting lecturers to IIT; and NOWNESS FILES: 2012-2018 IIT Architecture Chicago (IITAC/Actar, 2019), documenting Arets’ tenure as dean.

Among the monographs on Arets’ architectural and design work published in the last twenty years are Wiel Arets: Works, Projects, Writings, edited by Xavier Costa (Ediciones Poligrafa, Spain, and Princeton Architectural Press, US, 2002); Wiel Arets: Works and Projects, edited by Massimo Faiferri (Electa, Italy, 2004); The Bathing Dutchman (Alessi, 2007); Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References by Robert McCarter (Birkhäuser, 2012, Best Dutch Book Design Award); Wiel Arets: Inspiration and Process in Architecture (Moleskin, 2012); the monographic issue of TC Cuadernos: Wiel Arets 1997-2013 (TC  Cuadernos, 2013); Wiel Arets - Bas Princen (Hatje Cantz, 2015), a series of photographs of Arets’ buildings taken by Bas Princen; and the forthcoming monographic issue of C3 (Korea, 2020). Recent books written by Arets, or comprising his writings, include STILLS: A Timeline of Ideas, Articles & Interviews 1982-2010 (010, 2010, Best Dutch Book Design Award, Communication Arts Typography Annual Award) and Un-Conscious-City by Wiel Arets (Actar, 2019), Arets’ speculations, observations and propositions concerning the condition of contemporary urban inhabitation.


Robert McCarter, 2020

Architect and Author

Ruth and Norman Moore Professor of Architecture

Washington University in St. Louis, United States of America