Monday, October 01, 2012

Book Review: Architecture in the Netherlands

Architecture in the Netherlands: Yearbook 2011-12 edited by Samir Bantal, JaapJan Berg, Kees van der Hoeven, Anne Luijten
NAi Publishers, 2012
Paperback, 272 pages

The annual Architecture in the Netherlands Yearbook started in 1987/88, making the most recent one the 25th installment. Accordingly it is treated as a special edition, much bigger than previous yearbooks and further taking a look back to its origins. In addition to the usual 30 projects highlighting the best buildings in the Netherlands realized in the last ten months, number 25 features 10 projects from the previous 24 issues and an essay by one of the first editors.

An important inclusion is a chart of all of the Dutch architects with more than two projects in the 25 issues, accompanied by an essay that gives context and helps make more sense of the year-by-year tally. The architects with the most appearances are no surprise: Erick van Egeraat (22), Claus en Kaan (21), Jo Coenen (16), Francine Houben/Mecanoo (15), as well as Weil Arets and a handful of others at 14. Ultimately the books, and therefore the list, are editorial and therefore subjective; the yearbook has been helmed by six editors for various timeframes. But the list of architects, places, and typologies manages to capture the important qualities of Dutch architecture at a time when paradoxically its influence has been great but its most well known architects (OMA, MVRDV) have shifted focus to other countries.

There are a number of highlights in the 30 2011/12 projects — Claus en Kaan's NIOO-KNAW, Erick van Egeraat's Drents Museum, NL Architects' Nieuw Welgelegen Gymnasium, Soeters van Eldonk's Zaanstad Town Hall, and Koen van Velsen's Paleis Het Loo entrance building — but the 10 buildings from the previous issues are the highlight of the book. The six editors worked together to determine which buildings made the cut, only a few of which are obvious: Rem Koolhaas's Kunsthal, UNStudio's Moebius House, and Wiel Arets' Utrecht University Library. Given the speed at which buildings are published today and forgotten tomorrow, it's refreshing to see a recap of notable buildings that are still thoroughly contemporary (not limited to the last few years in a more literal sense of the term). Accordingly, the essays accompanying the photos and drawings on the ten buildings focus on the use and evolution of each building, not just its formal properties. With the 25th issue of the yearbook, the current editors step down, making way for some new blood and potentially a new direction for the next quarter century.