Open: A Bakema Celebration


Open: A Bakema Celebration
The Dutch contribution to la Biennale Architettura 2014 presents a critical rethinking of the idea of the open society through the work and ideas of Jaap Bakema (1914-1981).

Open: Society
Bakema aimed to build toward a new, open society. He felt that architecture should accommodate the emancipation of the masses while allowing for the self-realization of the individual citizen.
What is the relevance of such lofty idealism in the current socio-political climate? What was the open society then? And what could it be today?


Open: Poetics
Bakema’s project for the open society coincided with the establishment of the post-war welfare state in the Netherlands. The roles of the architect and the state were very different then, as was the relation between user and producer. Much of the built production of the welfare state has been criticized. Even today its appreciation is mixed. Some of the buildings have recently been listed, while others fall into disrepair and are demolished. Yet, after the rise and fall of postmodernism, after the crisis of the welfare state system and after the crisis of the neo-liberal market model, Bakema's work provides us once again with a touchstone for rethinking the ideals of the open society: for its generosity, for its bold poetics, and for its unabashed ambition and determination.

Open: Design and Research
We are interested in revisiting the achievements of Bakema and his ideas for an open society for many reasons. Not only did Bakema succeed in positioning architecture and urban planning at the heart of the political and cultural debates on the future direction of Dutch society, but together with the office of Van den Broek en Bakema he also exemplified a practice that integrates design and research. Then and now, such integration seems necessary to achieve the innovation needed in times of change.


Open: Installation
The installation presented here evokes the famous Lijnbaan shopping centre in Rotterdam, designed by Van den Broek en Bakema. The project became a symbol of progress after the devastating bombardment of the city centre at the beginning of the Second World War. As a shopping centre with high-rise housing the Lijnbaan is a tangible demonstration of the connection between the post-war welfare state project and a new consumer culture. For Bakema the Lijnbaan was a terrific example and metaphor to explain his ideas: a street where people could freely meet and enjoy modern life, a place which embodied the relationship between people, architecture and society.

Open: Exchange
Bakema's archive, especially the so-called 'Post Box for the Development of the Habitat', which he initiated at the end of CIAM in 1959, is still an inspiring example of the exchange of ideas between architects who sought to contribute to the ideal of open and inclusive societies. Therefore, next to the installation proper a contemporary post box will go online during the Venice Biennale: the Post Box for the Open Society. It will be open for anyone to participate in debate and to contribute designs to counter the problems of inclusive societies today.


Open: History
Such updating of history is justified, we feel, since many of the questions of today are framed by larger, more continuous questions such as that of the open society. Today, the economic and political situation is very different from the heyday of the welfare state. All sorts of new concepts are emerging, from 'bottom-up' ideologies to the 'creative commons' and the 'participation society'. At the same time, behind these new concepts we see similar questions in relation to the ideal of an open society, ranging from new digital systems and surveillance techniques controlling the spaces we live in to fast-expanding megacities outside Europe.

It is from such observations that we seek to critically address the larger issue of the open society anew: to see its history in a new light, but also to use it as a lens to see our own time, its anxieties and challenges in a different perspective and to find alternative ways into the future.

Interview with Dirk van den Heuvel and Guus Beumer by Baunetz, 2014.

'About Bakema', a production by the New Insitute, 2014. Including interviews with Herman Hertzberger, Frans Hooykaas, John Habraken, Brita Bakema, Izak Salomons by Dirk van den Heuvel.