Untitled_Space_000

97_1

The concept and first design for Untitled_Space originated in 1995 while creating an entry for the Dutch Prix de Rome for architecture. The competition brief requested a “contemporary” design for a new entrance building for the Open-air Museum in Arnhem (the Netherlands), or in other words a more or less public space in an attractive and special scenic location. A very concrete design assignment at first sight that, however, related to some personal considerations about the conception of architecture in general and the formalism that haunted Dutch architecture in those days in particular, raised more and more questions in the course of contemplation. Which ultimately resulted in a project that gave expression to a personal need that had been growing for some time. Where architecture manifests itself, much, if not everything, stops existing. Or so it often seems. This both true and saddening observation in combination with the assignment to apply “contemporary” architecture to a special and beautiful place, or rather one of all the randomly special and beautiful places, leads to a problem definition that does not lend itself easily to pragmatic arguments.

Why this architecture?

97_2

Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan”, September 1969

The project Untitled_Space seeks its justification in a reorientation of architecture to its specific context. A reorientation to the immediate material context of the project: the existing physical space and the wider surroundings of the construction to be. The project chooses permanence and existing beauty above the often superficial fascination with the new. The starting point is nuanced transformation instead of isolated creation. Untitled_Space does not immediately appear as a form or object, but rather as a manipulated image of its environment, a duplicated or intensified existing reality. The project presents architecture and the creation of architecture almost literally as a form of perception: looking closely at what is already there, reassigning and redesignating. So that in that process, in that crucible of perception, interpretation and design, the transformation of the existing is not only given shape, but is also reflected.

97_3

Superstudio, “Fundamental Acts: Life, Supersurface”, 1972

The history of architecture is also reflected, in a certain sense the immaterial context of the project, although it is often contained in material matters: the written, sketched, built and photographed history of architecture. Especially the history of the recent past, the apparently forgotten ideals of the moderns and their direct descendants, the ambition to not only give shape to a single building but to an entire society, or in any case to express their social ideals in the design of space, material and even time. This context, the heritage of Modernism, is again being scrutinized, redesignated or redesigned and subsequently deployed in order to visualize for others the existing beauty that is to be transformed. Maybe it even will be “opened up collectively”, to paraphrase the jargon of the first ideas and sketches of the project.

97_4

Superstudio, “MOMA Environments” , 1972

Untitled_Space in itself is a simple architectonic space: an explicit “open” space that, in its ambiguous manifestations, is literally unnameable.

97_5

S. Giedeon, “Eiffelturm”, from: “Space, Time and Architecture”, 1941

It is one and many spaces simultaneously; a paradoxical space without properties that attempts to seize the last remnants of the infinitesimal and universal space envisioned by the Moderns in its many separate and specific manifestations. Its collective character lies concealed in this: the many views and interpretations that it tolerates offer opportunities to discuss, question and hopefully also explain the distinct social significance of architecture.

97_6

UNTITLED_SPACE_01, section

The first attempt, Untitled_Space_01, failed incidentally, due to a broken photocopier and the second round of judging by the jury of the Prix the Rome. It demanded a sequel. The initial idea for this fairly elementary form of architecture had more to offer than a single and still insufficiently developed project could represent. So in the following years we gradually developed the idea to realize Untitled Space globally, in the most varied of locations, in order to more closely examine and further develop the many architectonic questions that had arisen, and, moreover, adequately present the possible results or implications. Not to realize as a tangible construction, but as photography, the medium in which the majority of more or less well-known architecture reaches us.

97_7

Le Corbusier, “VillaStein-de Monzie, kitchen”, 1926

We decided to do some raw sketches of the intended realisations. And again it was the Prix de Rome, which at that time was awarded every five years, that offered us the choice occasion. The idea to submit the same project in a different form again five years later was not only appealing as a good joke with regard to the aura of authentic unicity attached to these kinds of occasions. But precisely for this reason it dovetailed nicely with our starting points for the realization of Untitled Space. In fact we did two sketches, one for each category the contest covered: Untitled Space 02 for ‘urbanism & landscape architecture” and Untitled Space 03 for “architecture”.

97_8

UNTITLED_SPACE_02, Sassenheim (NL) 2000

Untitled_Space_02 concerned a gas station that should function as a spatial interface between the urban motorway and the surrounding rural landscape. The design took the project back to the typological essence of roof and wall: a series of T-shaped glass pavilions that determine, both individually and collectively, an apparently almost infinite number of places and spaces in the landscape without enclosing them.

97_9

UNTITLED_SPACE_03, Amsterdam (NL) 2000

Untitled_Space_03 concerned the remodelling of an existing school into a Haman, a bathhouse. This project in a way went even further in its almost anti-architectural approach of the design: it intended to present a conversion that would manifest itself merely as a removal and dematerialisation of what already existed there. This time Untitled_Space_02 was nominated for the final round of the Prix de Rome in the year 2001.

97_10

UNTITLED_SPACE_04, Azuma Village (JP) 2001

A third sketch was created en passant in the same year, Untitled_Space_04, inspired by a competition for a new museum for watercolours in Japan. It concerns a variation on the theme of Untitled_Space_02, a series of open T-shaped glass pavilions carefully situated within the surrounding landscape. The artworks are exhibited inside these structures, where light and atmosphere can be conditioned if necessary. Visitors remain outside and watch through the glass, shielded from rain or sun by the roof, but otherwise at the mercy of the forces of nature. Artworks, the surrounding landscape, the sky above, the ground beneath and the people present are reflected and artificially multiplied on the matrix of glass panels, merging into the ever changing images that define the identity of the new museum.

97_11

UNTITLED_SPACE_0151_DDO_2.0

Based on these three sketches, we finally decided upon the design for future realizations. It reverts to the very first version of the project: a construction of concrete, steel and glass that, judging by size and dimensioning, could very easily be a house, but could just as easily accommodate a range of other projects. We also decided to limit the first realizations to locations in the Netherlands, and that each realization would be presented in three, separate photographic depictions: a façade, an interior and a detail. Supported by a grant from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, we began with the execution of what would become Untitled_Space_05 in the course of the year 2002.

97_12
97_13

Years went by and the number of Untitled Spaces grew gradually.

97_14

And finally summer 2005 a book about Untitled_Space_05-12 was published by Architectura + Natura in Amsterdam, three years and eight realizations after the project really got mature. The book takes the project a step further by the involvement of others. It presents all realisations until that date together with essays by five different authors: five divergent interpretations of the project and the themes involved. Each single interpretation adds something new, while in a way liberating the project already somewhat from the mere personal and individual considerations of the makers.

97_15

The publishing of this book didn’t mean the completion of the project. Through the years Untitled_Space will be realized in increasingly more places in the world, at various occasions and in different forms: whether in photography or moving pictures, as text, as scenery or in any other way that we think is appropriate for the specific occasion, in order to develop, extend and present the incorporated themes and ideas in every new realisation.

97_16

Eric Fischl, The Krefeld Project, “Sunroom. Scene 1”, 2002

However, one of the main questions concerning these future realisations to us lies concealed in the development and fulfilment of the explicit collective ambition of the project. Why this architecture? Can this architecture, or more accurately this idea of architecture, possibly generate any collective meaning or relevance outside itself? Or to put it more simple and prosaic at the same time: how can we get these Untitled Spaces to come alive?

97_17

UNTITLED_SPACE, exhibition at the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, Amsterdam (NL) 2003