The Nederlands Architectuurinstituut (NAi) has established a reputation as a center for all aspects of architecture in the Netherlands and as the largest architectural center in the world. But the golden times are over, the current savings policy forces to rethink. The NAi had to merge with two other institutions and is now going new ways together with these partners.
Elizabeth Sikiaridi, Frans Vogelaar
3 June 2013
@ DB Deutsche Bauzeitung
In an international comparison, the architecture sector in the Netherlands has been exceptionally generously subsidized over a long period of time. This development of architecture, which has enabled the development and international establishment of Dutch architecturally-driven tourism since the mid-1980s, can be easily understood in the light of the special conditions of development in this country. As a man-made landscape and shaped polders, the Netherlands have traditionally recognized design professions as a defining factor in shaping national identity.
But the general economic crisis has also affected the Dutch construction industry. With increasing vacancies and a stagnation in the property market, unemployment has been rising since 2009 and sales by the architects – the former »SuperDutch«  is in crisis. According to the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (Central Office of Statistics), the turnover of the architectural offices fell by 22% in 2012 and the number of new buildings in 2011 was at the lowest level since 1953, the start of the statistical survey acquisition.
Following the logic of neo-liberalism, the European continent is under a strong austerity policy. The Dutch architecture sector is also affected by cuts in subsidies in the context of budgetary refurbishments. The reductions currently endanger the existence of a number of institutions, including the local architecture centers (“Architectuur Lokaal”), the “Berlage Instituut” for postgraduates, the Archiprix competition, and the Rotterdamer Architekturbiennale.
In the context of general consolidation, the competent Ministry of Culture decided to combine the “Nederlands Architectuurinstituut” (NAi), the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion (Premsela Foundation) and the Virtueel Platform, which is responsible for digital culture , From the fusion at the beginning of 2013, “Het Nieuwe Instituut” (The New Institute), which resides in the building of the old NAi and serves as a platform for the promotion of the “creative industry”. His leader Guus Beumer previously led the independent NAi offshoot in Maastricht and was also the director of the local art center Marres.
The “industry” choice of words is characteristic of the reorientation of cultural policy and implies a way of working more on self-financing and thus a more commercial orientation of this cultural institute. Already in mid-2011 NAi had entered into co-operation with private companies from the construction and furniture industry as a result of the pressure.
The partner institutes each have a comprehensive and highly successful international balance sheet. For years, they have influenced the professional discourse and the professional language and supported and formed the professional networks grouped around them. Their compulsory unification, therefore, came only under protest from the respective professional groups and the institutes themselves. Nevertheless, the merger also has a high potential for innovation, which is all the more relevant because of the greater the problems with which the guild has to deal.
Within the context of the new conceptualization of the new institute, Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar were called in to contribute their expertise. Her interdisciplinary studio “Hybrid Space Lab” combines research, development and design and focuses on the hybrid fields created by the combination and convergence of environments and objects with networks and services today, in the information and communication age.
The main focus of the conceptual approach was v. a. on the new common perspectives arising from the merger of the design workspaces . Finally, we are experiencing not only a hybridization of the related disciplines of architecture and design and of digital culture, but also of the creative work fields in the broader context.
Since the late 1960s, art practice has transcended the boundaries of the traditional artistic media, For example sculpture and painting, and develops in the direction of a post-medium condition, as described by Rosalind Krauss . Often, within a single artistic project, painting and sculpture, film, sound and interactive media merge with each other.
Characteristic for the last decades is also the blurring of the boundaries between design and autonomous art. The Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout is just one of many “hybrid” artists who at the same time feel at home in the applied fields of architecture and design as well as in the market of autonomous art. Just like Tobias Rehberger, who designed architectures and space-filling installations as a visual artist, and received the Golden Lion for his cafeteria in the central exhibition palace of the Venice Biennale.
As the workspaces of creative production converge, the universal tool computer is a bridge that allows the various areas of music, graphic design, architecture, object design, video and media design to communicate with one another and makes complex information manageable at all.
The digital technologies supported the intertwining and merging of environments and objects with services and process rooms, they enable complex structures to be designed and complex dynamic processes to be controlled – tasks that will be increased to designers and architecture. Classic object design is increasingly concerned with ecological circuits, with participatory design environments and decentralized production methods, As FabLabs  as well as with user interactions.
In the conception of architectural and urban spaces, such a process-oriented design and planning approach also takes into account the multitude of cycles of a city landscape: the multiple use and multiple coding of rooms, the life cycles of the building structure, the intermediate use as well as the conversion of existing structures. Energy cycles play an important role, architecture is an energy transformation (plus energy houses, plus energy parks), as well as considerations of the aesthetics of the energy landscape as well as material recycling, For example in the “cradle to cradle” principle (see db 6/2011, p. 78), the construction waste is regarded as a resource.
The focus of architects and city planners is shifting from the design of rooms to the programming of processes. Since the digital media is changing social communication in general, such as networked collaboration, open source, or Wikipedia, as new expectations arise in terms of discussion and co-operation, there is a growing demand for expert moderators. The spectrum ranges from the coordination of an assembly on a smaller scale to the participatory urban development project.
At the same time, we are experiencing a growing specialization within the various areas of design. The increasing quantity and complexity of the specialist knowledge also brings ever closer professional profiles of the creative actors, especially the architects. The new “hybrid” institute in Rotterdam is to tackle this narrowing of perspectives with a holistic view of the complex design tasks and work areas. It will also hopefully turn out to be the interdisciplinary laboratory in which the accelerating technological developments in the fields of information, nano, biotechnology and neurotechnology are brought together to enable the quality improvement of our environment.
With its interdisciplinary approach, the New Institute offers the opportunity to meet the emerging challenges and to position the architecture and urbanism of the Netherlands (again) at the forefront of technical, cultural and social innovation.
1 Bart Lootsma: SuperDutch. New Dutch Architecture, DVA, Munich 2000
2 Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar: „Rebooting (Dutch) Design« in »The Design Journal«, Band 15, Edition 4, 2012, Pages 479-491
3 Rosalind Krauss: »A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition«, Thames & Hudson, London 2000
4 FabLabs (Engl. fabrication laboratory) are open, democratic high-tech workshops with the aim of providing industrial production processes for individual pieces.