We nominate the project Vacant NL, ‘where architecture meets ideas’, shown at the 2010 Venice International Architecture Exhibition. With this installation, Rietveld Landscape allow people to experience an inspiring vision of empty governmental and public buildings and their temporary repurposing in a compelling way.
In this project, Rietveld Landscape shows how the vast numbers of vacant Dutch public buildings can be made temporarily available as a stimulus for creative entrepreneurship and innovation. They challenge the government to hand over keys instead of money so that, while the buildings are not in official use, they can serve as places where connections and cross-pollinations can arise that will catalyse future plans. Viewed as a statement, the project is saying, “Right time, right place – let’s go!”
In a single stroke, the designers make visible the quantity and diversity of empty buildings. They do so in a fascinating, enchanting manner: a sea of blue foam blocks floats high in the sun-drenched interior of the Dutch Pavilion in Venice. The blocks represent the Netherlands' thousands of empty government buildings, varied in form, infinite in their possible uses. As visitors wander through the room beneath the blocks, they become aware of the “cultural footprint”. The lighted blue cloud of square meters upon square meters of vacancy hangs above their heads somewhat threateningly, while at the same time the awareness of it invites them to think about the possibilities all that space offers. Viewing the undulating sea of blue blocks from above is very different. From a platform placed in the pavilion for this purpose, visitors get an overview. Here, it becomes clear that this striking sight is based on an extensive study of vacancy. The results of the research are also set out in the Dutch Atlas of Vacancy, which meticulously documents each empty building through photographs, drawings, and information on typology and spatial context.
Another element of the installation, Placebook Panorama, uses an extensive string model to show the relationships between buildings, projects and people that result from the repurposing of real estate. Unexpected professional connections and cross-fertilisations between various disciplines are immediately made clear. Placebook Panorama shows Vacant NL to be a concrete statement that plays out in everyday practice – including that of the team members who worked on the installation, for the project ultimately ended up being personal and real.
The venue, Gerrit Rietveld’s Dutch Pavilion, is itself part of the installation. After all, since 1954, the pavilion, itself a public building on Dutch soil, has stood empty for eight and a half months each year, for a total of more than 39 years.
Vacant NL is a project out of which new statements can be formulated in the future. An example is Rietveld Landscape’s establishment of a master's course of the same name at the Sandberg Institute, where students can interpret this timely statement in their own way. The two-year course, also led by Rietveld Landscape, will train designers, craftspeople and scholars to be specialists in temporary repurposing.
With Vacant NL, landscape architects assume the role of exhibition producers, and successfully so: the project has justifiably received much attention. Partly thanks to the unequivocal manner of representation, Rietveld Landscape has made the problem as well as the proposed solution understandable for a large audience. All that emptiness invites creativity – all that's needed are the keys.
Design team: Ronald Rietveld, Erik Rietveld, Jurgen Bey, Joost Grootens, Saskia van Stein, Claus Wiersma, Barbara Visser
Commissioned by: Netherlands Architecture Institute; Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science