Book Review: Crucible of Invention

By Michael Webb

Think Dutch: Conceptual Architecture and Design in the Netherlands.  Bilingual text by Jeroen Junte and David Keunig. Daab/Frame Publishers. $175.

A third of the Netherlands lies below the present sea-level and the first priority is to live with, above and even on water. So it’s appropriate that this provocative survey should begin with a focus on water. Here are inventive bridges, a floating mosque, and a half-submerged  tax office, as well as water purification devices.

The subtitle  of the book is misleading: these are all concrete solutions, not blue-sky ideas, and perpetuate a centuries-old tradition of problem-solving. In his introduction, editor Robert Thiemann sees the financial collapse of 2008 as a decisive turning point for architecture. “The young designer of today is not, and has no wish to be, a star architect, but rather an anonymous team-player in a collective association of people in search of the correct moral and aesthetic attitude,” he writes. That may be true for idealists, and the spirit of collaboration in the profession is strong, but one suspects that many team players covet the success of OMA, MVRDV, and UN Studio, who have parlayed fame into global practices.  A financial crisis doesn’t change human nature, and established firms that took a hit in 2008 are bouncing back.

Resilience and inventiveness are the greatest national assets. A country brought to the brink of starvation in 1945 is now one of the most prosperous and progressive in Europe. Its transportation infrastructure and social amenities dazzle visiting Americans, who may never enjoy such a civilized environment. In contrast to Italy and France, which live on memories of a glorious past, the Netherlands looks to the future, and these 500 pages of creative work by fledgling firms demonstrate that faith is well founded. Objects and buildings are grouped by theme. It’s impossible to summarize a collection as rich and stimulating as this. Though the price is steep, Think Dutch is a must-have for every architect and designer in search of inspiration and a wish to believe that the best may be yet to come.  

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