Saturday, February 09, 2013

28 in 28 #9: Dutch Architecture in 250 Highlights

Dutch Architecture in 250 Highlights edited by Netherlands Architecture Institute
nai010 Publishers, 2012
Hardcover, 304 pages

The 250 Dutch highlights of the book's title are culled from the archives of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (The New Institute as of the first of this year) in Rotterdam. The drawings, models, and photographs that date from the early 1600s to the recent past are split into six chapters: Experimental, Restrained, Curious, Together, Makeable, and Open. Not all are self-explanatory, like the chapter on experiments in form and technique. Restrained refers to rational and business-like design; Curious documents overseas travels and inspiration; Together is about the creation of community at various scales; Makeable deals with grand urban plans; and Open focuses on public buildings. Yes, these chapters provide themes for the various archival objects to fit into, but they also help structure the book—each chapter, sub-chapter, and piece gives a combined number that then keys each one of the 250 highlights to its place in the much larger NAi archive. A helpful index and timeline, both illustrated with thumbnails of the works, provide numerous ways of looking through the book, as well as realizing, for example, how the highlights cluster in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1960s.

While the book is focused on revealing how the 250 works express Dutch architecture, culture, and history, it also places a strong emphasis on drawings (by hand), and this is refreshing. I'd say 3/4 of the book is made up of drawings, with the rest comprised of models and photographs. Of course the drawings are varied in terms of media, format (orthographic, perspective, sketch, etc.), and other variables, but they illustrate how the primary Dutch ideas come across through a media that is rarely found in the presentations of architects today. The book can be seen merely as a history of times when architects articulated ideas through hand drawing, but it can also be seen as an embrace of ideas in their fruition. Hand drawing has the ability to convey what ideas are important, leaving out lots of things that can be left to the imagination, unlike the renderings and other drawings created with the help of computers. Sure, there are presentation drawings that make up part of the 250 highlights (what would now be computer generated renderings), but they are accompanied by looser formats that are more rich and rewarding. In this approach to looking at the book, I can't help but wonder what an archive that starts at the beginning of the 21st century will look like in a couple hundred years.