Recently I went to the city where the International Court of Justice has its seat. At breakfast I mused at the unexpected juxtaposition of an early Rem Koolhaas, an outmoded Richard Meier and a bunch of slumlike shelters put up overnight by architecture students who were actually not indignados. Yet.
Apart from the surrealistic memento, what did I learn from Den Haag, one could ask? Visiting the administrative capital of the supposed richest country in Europe always ought to taught you something. So, let me briefly debrief you.
Unfortunately, and first of all, I didn’t learn what Luomo is up to these days. Given the sudden need to include a trip to Paris inside my trip to Den Haag, I ended up arriving quite late for my one-nighter in Den Haag.
Due to a badly signed, unfinished highway I actually got lost in the port of Antwerpen, had to ask directions from a Polish truck driver in a deserted gas station… and payed a toll on it too.
Nevertheless, because of the happenstance, I did see the new Rotterdam skyline, did my beauty sleep and kept my usual 6am schedule, something highly improbable if I had attended Todays Festival exciting nighttime programme.
Thus I lost both the dark side and the cultural plus Den Haag might have offered and had only what they call the city’s tunnel vision. In this instance, you are lucky if you have half an hour to walk up and down a highly commercial high street that could belong anywhere in small-town Europe. Same brands, same suburban feel.
No Trust No City © Designboys, via Designboys.
Ultimately, I did do my thing and learned that Raumlabor’s inflatable BXL at the festival grounds hadn’t the most perfect acoustics in the world. Still, it allowed for a decent, intimate conversation, especially if you would sit on the floor of the Ant Farm inspired bubble in a circle like Indians did ages ago. By then, however, you could imagine a neo-hippie conspiration was taking place. Which would sound* perfectly ridiculous, anyway. Even in the present circumstance.
Secondly, I also learned that Metropolis M magazine carried eloquent protest editorials in a moment in which severe budget cuts are undermining the acknowledged potential of Dutch intelligence.
If no other impression comes to mind concerning the whole of Europe at this moment in time, such protests should at least be read as generous warnings regarding the destruction of a nice funding system.
This grant system was what eventually allowed for successful Dutch cultural exports in areas such as graphic design, product design, fashion, and architecture. Even I was twice the benefiary of that system, although I’m positively no flying Dutchman. Its demise illustrates the bigger picture and a gloomier outcome for what is touristy Europe’s major asset: its culture.
Finally, some friends would also ask what did I learn from my brisk visit to Paris? The only thing I can reveal is that I had a not too bright glimpse of her becoming a second Lagos. As fascinating as the African megalopolis, certainly more attractive to the naked eye, Paris felt as irrational to use in a car. Unless, of course, this was carefully planned in view of a fictional scenario in which the city officials are preparing to ban cars totally and forever.
Another Boring Postcard, #31 (Paris), hacked image via Stephy’s in Paris
Crossing Paris by car reminded me of a huge traffic jam I was once in, in Morocco. On a holiday trip, cast against a rural landscape, the thing felt delicious and exotic. In compact Paris, slowly zooming in and out of the city centre felt only stressful and shocking. Even if on Friday everybody is frantic to escape the city, there were behaviours and time loss rates I would expect in places like Luanda. But then, Angola’s capital is now the most expensive city in the world.
Which reminds me of a time when the most expensive cities in the world were also the most attractive to live in. Now, particularly in Europe, it seems like the once expensive are turning into a bad Mad Max version of an unwanted future. Considering its undesirable political, social costs, what was once highly priced is now indeed becoming strangely unappealing.
Given this curious inversion, I can only doubt if we are at a period when, of all things, “the luxury retail store has become a crucial forum for architecture,” as Mohsen Mostafavi has recently sold it ouhmm… I mean, put forward.
Pondering such epicurean statements from the dean of one of the most acclaimed architecture schools, should we be still surprised or sad when claims regularly have it that “architects are not the solution to urbanisation“?