Rein Jansma


Biography

Rein Jansma briefly studied biology and architecture at the TU Delft but decided that 'making things' was what he had to do. In 1982 he published the remarkable pop-up book 'Stairs' with Joost Elffers production, which has been reprinted several times since: "This unique interactive book surpasses all language barriers, enriching the traditional pop-up book format with fresh, timeless imagery. Its emphasis on visual detail and its absence of text makes it a source of simple pleasure and serenity" . In the eighties Jansma mostly worked as artist and designer and was involved in building theatre decors in Amsterdam and Paris as well. Around 1990, together with Moshe Zwarts, Rein Jansma founded Zwarts & Jansma architects. The company is located in Amsterdam and operates mostly in the field of public buildings and mobility throughout the Netherlands. They build soccer stadiums, railway stations, bridges, tunnels and other mobility infrastructure. In 1992 Zwarts & Jansma created the Dutch Pavilion on the world expo in Seville. Currently Zwarts & Jansma also work for the Road & Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai (expected to be finished in 2010) and are doing the renovation and enlargement of the Central Railway Station in Tbilisi in Georgia. Today Jansma is leading the office together with Reinald Top and Rob Torsing.

28th April 2009, Amsterdam

Rein Jansma loves the material world. Being an architect, he builds mostly physical infrastructure. Also, Rein loves technology and he realizes that technology and algorithms define more and more the success of the architectural practice. At his large company's office there is a remarkable workshop sphere. One can play the latest games, print in 3D, play pool, there is a library of impressive books and beautiful objects and maquettes are on display through out. Also there is a crafts workshop where one can mold and phrase iron, wood, plastic and all their derivatives in any shape. I have known Rein for many years and mostly he does not talk about his work; he just wants to make things. It was a great pleasure and very useful for the research that he agreed to make an exception to his rule.

Summary

Rein Jansma explains that in the architectural company Zwarz & Jansma no distinction is made the between the design process and the technical development of design. All collaborators have to be qualified architects because research and inventions for technical development inform the design process in a fundamental way. The research about how things work is vital for the architectural practice, Jansma argues. They work on infrastructure, mobility, as well as public buildings. Results of the research, including the algorithms they invent, are part of the identity and assets of the company.

Experience of space Space is defined fundamentally by how one interacts with a space, Jansma argues. As a child he remembers drilling a hole in an internal wall, which came out in the bathroom of his mothers and fathers place. So for the first time he became aware of the concept of space. He found that there was a spatial relationship between those two confined spaces and with the appropriate tool Jansma found at the age of 7, that he could connect those two spaces. By participating in a space, touching it, engaging with it, the perception and vision of the built world is, changes. For Jansma the most stimulating buildings are those where he can see or feel the joy of the designer while creating it. The joy and the curiosity one can sense gives a lot of energy and human beings want to connect with such energy. For Jansma architecture is not about generating meaning, he actually would feel embarrassed in such a one-directional concept of architecture. For Jansma architecture is about how people get energized or stimulated by a piece of work, so people get motivated and challenged them selves. Architecture is very much about people influencing their own environment and technology gives wonderful and very powerful tools to do that. As architect one tries to stimulate and convey the joy of searching for solutions, for meaning and imagination.

When designing buildings and infrastructure the human body is always key to the design. Vision, hearing, physical constraints of human sizes, it all relates to the building. Even more so, says Jansma, the sense of one's body also creates a feeling that is crucial for the success of the building. For example in a soccer stadium many people prefer to sit on a narrow bench and touch each other all the time, because that is part of the experience they seek. As architect one always looks for optimums between different interests and possibilities, analyzing use patterns and identifying other spaces and timeslots to be used. Issues like safety and emergency situations are taken into account as well of course. There are programs that do the math about how quick everybody can be out of the building. It has also to do with breathing. How long can an average person hold their breath and be in another space where it is safe and there is no smoke? So that has to do with respiration systems.

Zwarts & Jansma have made a lot of sports buildings but actually, according to Jansma, a soccer stadium is a very silly building for just watching the game. It costs many millions of Euros and you use it only once every two weeks for a maximum of about two hours. For the price of a seat, it's probably much cheaper to give everybody a flat screen television at home with a recorder, so they can 'slowmo' it and see it much better there. Jansma argues that the first place building a soccer stadium is about designing the 'magic place' for interaction between people who are present in the stadium. It is very much about the shared experience of being together, seeing each other and feeling each other's emotions. For this reason Zwarts & Jansma design curved stadiums and no rectangular forms even though this means that on the long strands there is a bit more distance to the field. The curve makes it possible that 'all can see all' and there is no 'us' against 'them' feeling created; that it's feels like one organism, as Jansma formulates it. If people share an experience, they are more open and relaxed when they are in a group. The moment you share an experience, you can relate to each other and you trust each other more. Also other elements, like sound (good noise) and smell (freshly mowed grass), are important to create a sense of reality so people know that it is real what they experience.

Jansma argues that we live in a society in which risk is reduced all the time: by the government, by the municipality, by employers. On the other hand, as a biological entity, the human being has been shaped over millions of years into a perfect machine tuned to assess risk and assess possibilities. In that energy of "Can I eat it or will it eat me", we feel very alive, Jansma notices. In modern urban society we loose a part of this feeling of aliveness. People need to feel risk again; by watching sports in a soccer stadium for example, people feel they share the experience of the hero they watch, as if their neurons mirror the ones of the hero they watch. Watching sports, like playing sports, triggers the sense of risk. When the player, who is your favorite, gets hurt, you feel it almost physically. Of course one person likes soccer and another likes film to feel 'alive' again.

Transport infrastructure is very optimized in our part of the world, but, this brings a danger that people don't feel where they are, Zwarts & Jansma have found. On highways, in public transport things need to be different at different points in time along a track so people do not loose their sense of distance and understand where they are. If not, people loose a sense of security and will not use the infrastructure Such 'points of difference' should have a quality of their own, so you recognize them immediately as another space, argues Jansma. This authenticity of specific places creates a sense of being here or being there. A specific design of a light rail station, for example, is also identified by people, who are not using the system and are just passing by. It's very important to make a place have it's own character so people know where they are. This is even more important when designing larger housing projects. People need to be able to identify their home as being different from the rest. Having identity and knowing where you are, makes people more relaxed, according to Jansma.

For Jansma technology is wonderful. Without it we couldn't have the complicated urban society with every decade higher expectations of our interactions in our society. If there wasn't a whole lot of technology, we would go back to a rural society, but on another level we are also challenged by the anonymous space, which the urban life gives us. For Jansma it is a challenge in his work to make a nasty piece of infrastructure into kind of a social place and interactive technologies can play a role in this. Architecture has to do with gravity and some other reality issues. Before, the virtual and the real world seemed to be two different worlds; nowadays they merge more and more. Buildings can change color, people can communicate via walls, movements and more and this influences the experience of place, argues Jansma. The influence of technology has impact on the physical experience of realness and feedback of realness in the first place. If you get all kinds of sensors in your system, you'll still know it's not the real thing, Jansma argues. Walls of super flat screens, which render environments for example, do not feel real and people will feel tricked. The new way of technology is indeed that we build physical things, maybe print them, and that we can very easily, without a big footprint, redo it, suggests Jansma.

Technology deeply influences the architecture that can be made; because of the speed of calculation of computers the process of designing has fundamentally changed; lines and shapes can be made that were not feasible before; new materials and new ways of dealing with material evolve and this also changes the imagination as well. These changes do not only create an architecture that may last longer. Jansma strongly advocates that this also makes architecture more fluent. One can build something today by lasering recycled corrugated cardboard, use it for while and then shred it, make new cardboard, laser it and make something new again. This makes the process more fluent; one does not have to build a generic building, which can always be used for everything. When building those fluent spaces no extra materials are used, no chemicals are used, just some electricity, which it hopefully comes from a sustainable energy source. The process is so cheap and renewable that you can use a certain space for a couple of years and if a different space is needed, one can just throw the old one in the grinder again and make new cardboard and make a different space. It is only a little bit of energy, which is put into it.

For Jansma the most important requirement of today's technology is very simple: there should be zero footprint of carbon energy. People should be free to use energy; it should not feel like wasting energy. If a person is alone in the forest and uses an axe to cut wood, this is a great because the tree grows again and the axe isn't really changed after it is used. It is very sustainable and renewable. Technologies should be re-usable technologies, Jansma argues. There are great technologies popping in because of developments in biology and technology; we can grow buildings today. For instance there is a material, you have sand and you spread some fluid over it and then it gets sandstone, and once you're done, you just grind it again. That is the kind of technology we need. The most important thing for technology inventors is that they should have fun inventing as long as it is not polluting and it is not using enormous amounts of energy. It does not make sense to set an agenda for these developers. A lot of technology, which is used today, was never thought of when inventing.

Discussing the relation between functional rhythm and aesthetic rhythm in the design, Jansma explains that architecture and music are very close and some people are more sensitive to musical rhythms and others more to visual rhythms. Both are compositions one can be sensitive to. Rhythm is like a heartbeat. It's not really interesting to find out why it is beautiful; it's more interesting to build sensitivity for it. However, talking about visual rhythm is not something Jansma is willing to do because language operates in a different realm than spatiality. Form, space, rhythm are very different from language and he argues that space is defined by what Jansma calls 'visual logic'. Language operates in a different realm, uses different parts of the brain and putting visual logic into words is not possible, according to Jansma. When using language to describe space one starts judging space by what sounds good in language and what sounds good in language, looks more true then. This happens a lot in today's architectural practice, Jansma notices, but he argues that visual logic has to be judged within its own realm and cannot be presented nor can it be judged in linguistic terms because it functions in this different realm. Language and visual logic can even be opposite each other. Regularly it is suggested that content is something different from visual culture. For Jansma visual culture is very much content; rhythm, timing, breathing, looking, getting tired later have very much to do with getting your body through a space and touching it and the tactility of it. This creates sense in its own way. The moment language is used to describe it something else chips in. So Jansma avoids talking about it. He does raise the question though whether space has acquired a new communicative capacity because of technology since we are now capable of sending each other 'some space', where before we could only send some language or things.

Space is communication anyway, argues Jansma. It is communication from the designer of the space to the user, but on a non-language level. It is a transferring of meaning and/or seduction. Architects seduce people, and people seduce architects because they ask for a specific kind of a space, and architects say "okay, this one" and then people are invited to use the space. For Jansma, it is a very authentic communication channel, which doesn't have another truth behind it.

To illustrate his words Jansma picks up a piece of cardboard with a specific logical 3D pattern. For technicians it is a known pattern. There are even shells, which have this pattern on the outside. The pattern is the result of a mathematical logic. Jansma likes this very much because it is also a pattern that shows complexity, yet it is not chaotic. It has a very clear logic on the top line, which just repeats and then the thing forms. Jansma is very interested in how mathematical logic expresses itself in form. Instead of copying flowers, which are also beautiful, one can use mathematical patterns when making a fence or wallpaper or whatever. Because of the enormous technology power we now have, this can be produced this very easily.

A person, who witnesses the pattern, will not see the logic behind it but will experience this logic, and that logic is not always simplicity, on another level Jansma suggests. Very logic things can relate to very complex and layered things. On a visual level people understand this like they understand rhythm. Logic is not noise, it is very much a rhythm, but it is different than music. In music one expects the beginning of a song and then the middle and the end of the song. Jansma's example has got more to do with visual logic, which is very mathematical. How people relate to such visual logic is highly personal. Some people need a fireplace and look to the game of the flames and for Jansma looking at such a pattern is also great when needing some piece of mind for example. A lot people are looking for the original quality of material or the original quality of space. We are now entering a time where we can make form or space and give it enough complexity to make it interesting. It has a logic and quality of its own.

Transcript

The following is an edited transcription of the conversation. Film fragments of the conversation are included to illustrate parts of the transcribed text.

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CN: Ok, today is 28th of April, we are here with Rein Jansma, architect. Rein can you shortly describe the kind of architect you are and the business you are running.

RJ: The kind of architect, that's a difficult one. Well, physically we have an office here, about forty-five people now. I started the office with Moshe Zwarts twenty years ago, just the two of us. And we have a kind of atelier, workshop like office and we are very much into research, research how things work. We're not... well, we feel ourselves as inventors as well. Researchers, inventors. We have an office with most of them are qualified architects. So we don't have designers and then technicians who develop the design. So that is all done in one workshop like thing. We work a lot on infrastructure, mobility, as well as public buildings.

CN: So, when you are an architect and when you shape all these big public spaces, through which people move at different speeds, and then you develop bridges, tunnels, stadiums, very large buildings, you actually design how people witness each other.

RJ: Yes.

CN: So when you are developing or inventing or designing a new building, how do you imagine people in there?

RJ: Well I think it's very different with different aspects of.. or different type of buildings. As you mentioned we do a lot of sports buildings. And as we say sports buildings, especially a soccer stadium is a very silly building. You shouldn't be building it if you want to watch the soccer game, because it's always a multi million building (I don't know like fifty million Euros or a hundred million Euros) and you use it only once every two weeks, for a maximum of about two hours. So that is a silly thing. And for the price of a seat, it's probably much cheaper to give everybody at home a flat screen television with a recorder, so they can slow mo it and see it. So they see it much better there. For just watching the game it's a silly building. But on the other hand it is a magical place if you see it work and you see like those fifty thousand people within, well, a very small building basically. And then you see it's all about the interaction with those people who are there. And that is what we have very much in mind when we build for example a soccer stadium.

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CN: So can you elaborate on the interaction in the soccer stadium?

RJ: Yeah, maybe it's a little too long a story, but I try to narrow it down a little. We are in a society in which risk is reduced, all the time. By the government, by the municipality, as an employer I try to reduce risk for the people who work here.. And they expect me to do, I mean, they complain if they scratch something and their dress is torn. On the other hand we as a human being, as a biological entity, we are very much shaped over the thousands of years or millions of years as a perfect machine tuned to assess risk and assess possibilities. See if I can eat it, or it will eat me. And that feels very much alive if I'm in that energy. So risk taking, grabbing something or run away if there is a lion or whatever other animal is trying to eat me. So in our society we loose a part of our feeling of aliveness. For that we go on a survival tour in the Ardennes or climb a mountain to feel alive again. Or jump from an airplane or skydive and whatever. We want to feel those risks and those real risks again. So those sports buildings where it is very much about being together and seeing each other. They are, we engineer them very much so that you feel each other's emotions. And also we try to be as close as possible to the field, to the players on the field, because you know you connect to your hero. And the hero is the one taking the risk for you. And once you're really focused on your club, on your person in the club, the player who is your favorite, you really feel it almost physically when he gets hurt. So when they bump into each other you are kind of insulted by the other one not taking good care of you, and so on. And after the match, if you have lost or won, you've had an experience. Well, they did it for you. But you are kind of so focused to them that like your mirror neurons, they start to tip in. So you have the same experience. Part of the physical you, of the mental you, which is not challenged in everyday life, in urban life, gets awakened in those ninety minutes of sports every week. So I think that is one of the things we really work with.

CN: So the interesting thing is that I think you are saying, is that in a stadium people come there to witness. And the witnessing is a kind of interaction, without being an interaction.

RJ: Yes, in a way they experience almost the same thing as their individual player or their team they relate to. And so they have a kind of shared experience.

CN: So what's the difference with film, or a concert?

RJ: I think it's very much to your personality if you are a movie person. And that when you are in a movie that it's total reality what you experience and that when the end is there that you were in the other reality and that you have experienced it. So some people get awoken or touched by a movie thing, and other people by other things. So I think it's depending on what you relate to.

CN: But interesting enough, you know like in film you have huge screens so you can really see it well, you have really good sound so you can hear what they say. Where in a stadium you come to witness, but there is bad view and bad sound.

RJ: Yes, yes.

CN: So how do you design the witnessing in stadiums?

RJ: Well, one of the things that we do, and we are a very strong advocate for that, is that... well ok it used to be a stadium that.. it used to be a sports field, so you stand on the side and you're looking at that. Once we started to need to bring in more people there for whatever reason, and for some good reasons, they had to be bigger; we had to build the tiers, the stands. And in the beginning they were like straight. Straight stands, just parallel to the sidelines of the soccer field for example. And you see a lot of the stadiums, which are like four independent tiers, which are there. And we are very strong advocate to close those corners, so that you are not independent like "we" and "they, from the other stand". But that it's all like one organism there. And also very important that the long tier when you are on the side, on the long side of the field, it's curved, it's hollow curved. So that it's easy when you look to the side that you see a lot of people, that you see a lot of eyes. Like that you're together there. So if you were alone there, you would not kind of have that feeling of " we are all together". So it's very important that they're curved, although you get a little bit further away from the field if you've curved of course. But then we think it's much more important to see everyone as well, everybody from the public.

CN: And why is that important?

RJ: Because.... probably people are... more open or relaxed when they are in a group. They kind of relate to their group, it's their side. So they share the same experience with people who are kind of friends who share the same experience. Probably people open up and they talk to strangers. Normally when you are in the street or in the shop, maybe when you have to wait very long you might start, but normally you're just kind of in the elevator.

CN: So when do you get this sense, in what kind of spaces?

RJ: If you share an experience. Like the moment the elevator stops and you feel it's not at the floor, people start talking to each other. So you share an experience and you can relate. So the moment you are in a soccer game and you see someone either making a point or getting hurt you say, "wow look at that!" and they are kind of friends, they are with you. They had the same experience. The moment you share an experience, you trust each other more. Because you know what you have been through, something like that actually.

CN: And how important is the physical there?

RJ: Oh, it's probably very important. It used to be when we had a few TV channels, and the school or workday started you would say "have you seen this and this yesterday?" and you could relate to that. But then you first have to test if the other one know the same thing and thinks the same thing about it. If you're together you can also see if he's the good one, if he's yelling at your party or if he's yelling at the other party like "hurray". So I think you can see how someone reacts and feels and you can also feel if it's trustworthy, like genuine. And so I think it's very important to be physically together there.

CN: And what do you have to do? I mean one thing is that you have to make the bodies in a way that they are, that they sort of all share the same position in one circle. So people can see each other.

RJ: Yes.

CN: What else is important?

RJ: Well, I think it is also important that there is like the smell... that also other senses are spoken too. Hear, that there are good acoustics. Maybe not that you can understand everything, but that it is a nice noisy sound thing. And also like the freshly mowed grass, that you can smell that. That is a kind of a sense of reality. That it is real what you experience.

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CN: You also design tunnels and highways and bridges.

RJ: Yes.

CN: People also witness... or they also have an experience on the bridge or in the tunnel.

RJ: Yes. I think in large public transport or in large transport, infrastructure, things like highways. They are so optimized in a way, the width of a platform or the width of the road lane you are driving, that there is a danger that you don't feel where you are. So what we do is like, for instance if it's like a highway thing that like once in every ten or fifteen minutes there is something, which is really different. Like a bridge, which is, a large construction or maybe it's a town. But if everything should be like a pipe you lose your sense of distance, of traveling and so on. We think it's there very much important that after a while you see something. And also same thing accounts for I think public transport. If you go in a subway it's even more abstract where you are. So there it's very important that once you stop in a station, that they're not all the same. That you can see "ok, now I'm here". I mean they should be in a way very understandable. They shouldn't be in a way like mystery places, because if it doesn't feel secure you wouldn't use it. But on the other hand it should have a real quality of their own, that you recognize them immediately as another space. That it's not a copy.

CN: So this authenticity sort of specific places creates being here or being there, being somewhere?

RJ: Yes, I think it's very important. We did a large structure in The Hague, which is kind of a net stocking thing, which is also public transport, a light rail station. That gives a very strong identity to the place. People recognize "ok, I'm now here". Also if they are not part of the system, but just users of the street or the car or walking or whatever, they recognize it. So once they use the system they also recognize "ok, now I'm here". So it's a very strong identity maker, a station like that or a structure like that. I think it's very important to make a place have it's own character so people know where they are. The danger is of course that....

CN: Do you know of places where it's not? And what happens then?

RJ: Well, we had the Bijlmermeer, which is the Dutch form of plattenbouw. Which is like kind of copying the super engineered dwelling machine. And then people start not identifying with their home. I think it's even more important that you recognize it as " this is my place" than that it is the most luxurious best place. If all the houses are the same and maybe very luxurious, and one house is crackled and whatever, but it's you're house. Then you probably love that more than the more luxurious, but which is all the same as all the rest. I think it's very important that you can sort of recognize it as being different from the rest.

CN: And you also think that that's a requirement for people to see each other, to witness each other?

RJ: I think it would make me very insecure if you had a twin sister who looked exactly the same. And if I see you I would first have to test which of the two are you. So it helped me great to from a distance to see you and then know that you are you. So I think it helps people feel more relaxed and more secure. They can recognize "ok, I'm here" and then also because they know the environment. If you were for instance in that former Bijlmermeer dwelling which looks the same as the one two kilometers away, you are uncertain if you are in the right building. You don't know if you go to the right neighbors. So I think identity gives a kind of.. you can relax there and then you can open up and relate to people more.

CN: So there are physical constraints to human beings that you have to take into account? Like you can have so many people in a space, or people can only be so close or they will feel horrible. If the space is too wide they will feel insecure. So how do you deal with the physical boundaries of human beings?

RJ: Could you rephrase the question a little bit?

CN: Yes, so... Like an eye for example in a stadium, an eye can only see so much detail and then you are too distanced to be able to see the place. Or there is only so far you can hear things. But also bodies, the things you talk about, the sort of identity thing. Or the need for place. Those maybe very physical things. So when you design a building... like when I look at the pictures of your buildings I see like sometimes there is human figure as illustration, yet you make structures and buildings for thousands for millions of people. So how does their body inform you? And I'm interested in this because technology also creates structures you know for millions of people. So on the one hand body is a frontier you have to deal with; maybe it's also an inspiration, maybe.... I'm just curious. Maybe it's too vague as a question.

RJ: Kind of vague, but maybe I can.. What my faults are if you ask it. But it's kind of vague because it's very much; building is a very physical thing. I mean it's so physical, it's so obvious that it's physical that I have a hard time to relate to that question how physical is building, something like that. I mean the size of the building has everything to do with the size of your body and that you're there.

CN: There is a relation between the size of the body and the size of the building?

RJ: Oh, very much.

CN: How is that?

RJ: I mean that's what we always do. We measure like what's the width of your seat really and what happens if those seats are more compact? And then do we like to touch each other in a way? I mean to go back to the soccer stadium, that has to do of course with is it 52 cm or is it 48 cm or more? Because if it's too wide people think it's very luxurious, but it starts to be dull. I mean there are a lot of people who can afford business seat, which is 60 cm and more private and so on, who prefer to seat on a narrow bench and then touch each other all the time with whom you're there, that it is more alive. So that has to do with inches or those kinds of measures. t 21.00

CN: This is very interesting because I'm always looking for cues to transpose to technology environment, where you know distance is a very different thing. So for you it's a very important thing, distance of people between each other.

RJ: Oh yes.

CN: How far gazing, how far hearing, how close touching.

RJ: Yeah, we designed, for the focus on the stadium; we designed also a stadium where there is some guidelines like what is the center to the field, to the furthest point of the field and into each other. And also what is the best height for your eyes to look over the person in front of you. And then you get a kind of a curve of course, to look down so you can always see the line of course at the border of the playing field. But at the same time if you make that pure optimum of viewing there, you can only have a limited amount of people in the building there. Because otherwise it will get to steep and it will be dangerous. So there is always a sort of looking for those optimums. And those are like centimeters or millimeters that we look into. Like if we drop a few millimeters from that looking above you, that really helps then.

CN: And do you also use time? Is time, rhythm, is that something you are also concerned with?

RJ: Yes, I'm... um...

CN: Well the fifty thousand people come in one go and leave two hours later. Staying in the rhythm of the stadium as you described.

RJ: Yes of course. That is once in the two weeks. And of course we try to build it in a way that you can also use it for other things, but it should be optimum for especially the one thing you build it for. Use all the annexes for other functions during the week if possible. Because even a small soccer stadium, like fifteen thousand, is bigger than the biggest theatre in town. So that is a thing. We also work very much with, but that is also basically from safety, is how quick you can evacuate. There are programs and you can do the math about how quick is everybody out of the building or in a safe area. And it has also to do with breathing. How long can an average person hold their breath and be in another space where it is safe and there is no smoke? So that has to do with really like your respiration system.

CN: So there you actually say the breathing informs the crisis management?

RJ: Yeah, yeah. Because once there is a big smoke here, you have to be able to get to a safe point and start breathing again; so then you're out. Those distances are very important yes.

CN: So you are really arguing that the designing of the place where people witness, lots of people together, one thing. The body informs the position to the spectacle, how you relate to the spectacle. And you know, you want to do it with all the other bodies around. But I'm wondering, because when I look at the aesthetics of your work. There is clearly rhythm in there all the time. So you explain about how you design space from function, but apparently in the aesthetics you also use rhythm. Is that for people to feel more at home or is that to give them security or...?

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RJ: No, because I think architecture and music is very close. And some people have really feel for like rhythm in music and some people get happy by rhythm in visual things like tut,tut,tut and it's not all the same, but it has a kind of... you can expect it and it's slightly different. So it's a visual thing as well. I mean rhythm just works the same way, that it's like a heartbeat. And also like when you drive or you gaze you see tuk,tuk,tuk, poem. It starts to be kind of like a composition, which isn't music. It's not like you play your skyline in the organ and you have a nice piece of music. But in a way you can feel the same compositional challenge and satisfaction. That you say "ok, this is beautiful" and it's not really interesting to find out why is this more beautiful, but it's more interesting to build the sensitivity for it.

CN: How do you do that? t 26.13

RJ: Well I'm making a mistake now because I'm talking about it. And I'm trying to make an argument about not talking about architecture, because the talking or language is kind of a different realm than spatiality, quality of space or like those rhythm things. So the moment you start talking about them, you start thinking about them on another space in your brains. And you start judging like what sounds good in language. And what sounds good in language, looks more true then. While, I call it visual logic. I mean we can.. Architects argue enormous amounts with very much with "gelegenheids argumenten"?

CN: Occasional, opportunistic arguments.

RJ: Yeah. So whatever we need we say "ok, this is good for that, this line should be like this because of that." If it's technically not possible because of this "oh, but this is better because of this, this, this." But you come.. you can argue a lot about why this and this is good, but once you make a model or a drawing, point taken. I mean sometimes you look at it and say, "Ok that's good". I mean it's very convincing. So the visual thing, the visual logic, can convince you in a different way than language can do. And maybe they can opposite each other. That you can say, "ok we need this, well that sounds silly, but it looks good." So language and space are... wait a minute, sorry... This is Dutch though.

CN: {translating} Space is a language in another dimension.

RJ: And then if you do that. Then the language is gone, but it is kind of so logic for me, if you see this you say kind like "you're right, this is kind of a different thing". I mean form, space, rhythm is so different from language. It's such a different thing that... the language is the way we communicate with, it's not that I can send you some space. Luckily, with modern technology we can... and people sometimes say negative things about that we are in such a visual culture, as if content is something different from visual culture. But I think that the visual culture is very much a content, but from another realm. So if you say rhythm, timing, breathing, looking, getting tired later on, and so on. That has very much to do with getting your body through a space and touching it and the tactility of it. But the moment you start talking about it, something else chips in. So I try to avoid talking about it.

CN: Can we try another twenty minutes of talking, thirty minutes? We will switch from the subject and I will, you know, secretly keep on attacking you.

RJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Please do

CN: Ok, so let's talk technology. So technology has created... has changed our conception of distance, our conception of connection, of impact, of actions. I mean we have a really fundamental concepts of a human being. Like in your stadium... two thousand years ago there were also stadiums. But now we have a really different experience of place and time, our actions and also our relations to each other. How do you experience the world of technology? What kind of world is it?

RJ: Well, I think it's wonderful. Without it we couldn't have a complicated society as we build it. And we have by every decade higher expectations of our interactions and of our society. And in very direct ways, we couldn't be building buildings like this or in a town like this if there wasn't a whole lot of technology. We would go back to a rural society if we kind of switch off electricity, no way that we could live in the city. So that makes it possible. But on another level we are also experienced with those challenges, which the urban life gives us, which can be kind of anonymous space. We once did an underpass under a highway; the A4 near The Hague, to part of a new town, big development, a lot of housing was there. And an underpass under an existing highway, which had to be tunneled under it. It was kind of too low to be a nice space; otherwise you had to go down really. And there was the question of the client "how can we avoid that it becomes a nasty place, that people make graffiti on the walls and that people from that new town don't want to go to their school or work on the other part of town. So we worked together with an artist, Hans Muller. And we designed together a wall with all kind of lighting elements in it, but also a big light text board. We said because people want to have their graffiti on. They want to personalize the space in a way; they want to leave their marks. So why not facilitate that urge to leave your mark, in a way communicating. So what we did is that we facilitated that in a way that it was also self cleaning graffiti in a way that.. So you could either text message or via a terminal or through the Internet at home (www.tunnelleidseveen.nl), you could write your graffiti and then it would show up and then it went over and over and over. Or if this was long enough, the old message gets dropped and a new one comes in. But if you're at home, you're not there and you don't know if it's really there. So what we did is we put a webcam on the other wall. So you could see in the little stream "Oh really, ok there is my text, it comes up, it really works". And by that we made that not official security your police people were looking from a cc TV system for your security, big brother is watching you over. No, society is watching you over. If you were in that tunnel, it's not a place to attack someone, because there is a webcam and people know that. If they know the place, they know it's a wired place. But it's not from big brother, so it's a kind of social interaction there. So really people also started to use that "oh, let's meet there and there", because they have some interaction. "Oh, I'm sorry I'm a little late". It was those kind of things. Of course there was the borders of what is acceptable with a lot of, in Dutch "schuttingtaal", I don't know how that.... Like explicit words you put on a fence or on a wall. So then the mayor of the town said all the text should first be approved by a civil servant, like "oh well no, that is not ok". So then what we did is we made a kind of an interactive people. So people could say "this is not an allowed text" and then for a couple of days or weeks you couldn't use that word. So that was kind of the whole interaction was there. So we make a place, which was normally just a nasty piece of infrastructure into kind of a social place. So technology can help you build that. We were very fond of looking in there.

CN: And if you are online, if you are participate networks, do you like to be in that space?

RJ: I Used to think that there was a very strong difference between virtual architecture and the real building. Too many people were building virtual architecture and saying this is real architecture. Real architecture has to do with gravity and some other reality issues. But now days we can see that they really move into each other, and that you can make a chameleonic building, we can make buildings that can change color, space or use for instance, or change identity. I mean, to go back to the soccer stadium, made by Herzog & de Meuron, the Alliance Arena, two teams are playing in the arena and the arena changes color depending on who is playing there. So if you are on the highway or you are walking to it, because your club is playing there, you see a different stadium and it has a complete different identity, different color. So that really helps.

CN: If you'll talk real architecture, you have the gravity, duration of material, erosion, I just imagine all those things, you know, the material world. Technology has very different dynamics in it. Do you feel so?

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RJ: Do mean technology in virtual electronic meanings because this is also technology, I mean this is high-tech stuff, which is on the wall.

CN: No I mean like communication and the software you use to make your buildings. So I do throw it on one pile, you can say this, or actually three piles. But the speed and skills of processes that happen in the computers here in your company create lines you could not make before, calculate so fast it could take you weeks otherwise or many people. So that changed your process, it changed the shapes you make, and it also changes the forms you can build.

RJ: Oh.. Definitely, definitely.

CN: It has actually intervened on all three levels.

RJ: Yes, and it can sometimes make a building last longer, or you can do it … well this is just a coincidence, this is an interior of a room which we make of recycled corrugated cardboard. And the only thing what we add is that we cut it with a laser cutter. So there's no extra materials used, no chemicals used, just some electricity, which I hope is coming from a sustainable energy source. And it is so cheap and renewable that you can say, Okay, this is nice for a couple of years and if we want a different space we can just throw this into the grinder again and make new cardboard and make a different space, because it is only a little bit of energy which is put into it. So it makes the process kind of even more fluent, that you can leave options open and you don't have to build a very generic building of which you say OK this you can always use for everything, or adapt it very easily. And this kind of a way you can say, if we don't need the building, we grind it again and print another building. That's going to happen, yes. So it can be very physical thing. I think for me it gives more feedback of realness, of touch ability or so than … the other way could be that all the walls are some kind of super flat screen, and you can say, I don't need a view outside because I can just render the view and it will be slightly changed. But I think that's not going to happen that soon, then I would feel tricked, and it wouldn't feel real.

CN: So you actually argue that now because of technology and there is also recycling an eco-architecture, we have much more fun with imagination because we can just build buildings for a week.

RJ: You can build real physical things, because in the near future the energy will.. well everybody is looking for sustainable energy sources, and we will find it and probably have to pay a little higher level of money for that, but that's not a real problem.

CN: May I ask you this question. In the process before, of imagining spaces, how does technology influence your visual logic?

RJ: Visual has a lot to do .. is that it is like the outside of an inner logic. The feeling like ten or fifteen years ago we were rendering and had this kind of vision that we could be fast enough to render 3D spaces, that everybody thought that with a big goggle I'll just lie in my bed and experience everything. The example of the soccer-stadium shows that we're not fooled by that. Even if you get all kinds of sensors in your system, you'll still know it's not the real thing. So you want to be there and experience and feel it. So for me the new way of technology is indeed that we indeed that we build physical things, maybe print them, and that we can very easily, without a big footprint, redo it. Make it different colors, different feel ..

CN: But would that not be.., I mean I had the idea that a sort of authentic visual logic is surprising, has an authenticity in it. Technology just generates fake aesthetics, depending on software reuse, it might be blue, black or yellow, but only the blue, black and yellow that is offered. And also the algorithms, most of them they will only generate more of the same shapes.

RJ: No, because there will be a new possibility of language which will have a logic from its own. It is not an imitation; you're not going to do a look-alike of something else. And I think a lot people are looking for the original quality of the material or the original quality of the space, that you make things that don't look like something else. We had that already, I mean this things, all the things who look like they're natural stone but they're not, or look like wood, but they're not and so on. I think we are now entering a space or a time where we can make form or space and give it enough complexity to make it interesting. Because we used to have that when we made concrete buildings we just paint them white or we leave them concrete and we thought that was interesting enough, well it starts to be boring after a while. So people start to decorate it just to be not bored, well, that can be done to a very high class of things, which is interesting, but it feels like it doesn't have a thickness.

CN: What about technology, or let's say, a structure, a piece of wood, can be just itself. So no interference from the outside world with that building, it's the building itself. Some technologies are made with the idea of non-interference, confidential, non- interference. and this whole other realm of technology, public technology, where people all the time shape it your idea of the tunnel. Do you feel like, that for example the confidential, the non- interference, do you feel like that as architecture company that you have your own algorithms that are definitely yours?

RJ: Yes

CN: No one messes with them, those are your character, those are your mathematical structures which are seen in the material you do, in the visuals you produce, or do you feel that no such structures are there because they will always interact, that any building is chased by its users?

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RJ: Yes, but in a way space is communication. It is communication from us as the designer of the space to the user, but on a non-language level. So it is a communication, it is a transferring of meaning or seduction. We seduce the people, they seduce us of course, cause they ask for a kind of a space, and we say "okay, this one" and then we invite them to use the space. So for me, it is a very authentic communication channel, which doesn't have another truth behind it.

CN: Very nice. Can I just ask you more, because different people have commented on all the things you say now. So can you explain to me, how, for example, the mathematical models are linked to the algorithms, are linked to the real shapes, are linked to the real people, to the designers and then to the real people who will use it. How does this connect?

RJ: Let me get one thing, which is over here. I am sorry; I am out of the image now. This is for technicians a kind of a known pattern, it is a kind of a logical thing, which happens here, just logic goes down. There are even shells which have this pattern on the outside, because it is a kind of a mathematical logic what happens here. I like this very much because it is also a pattern that shows complexity, it isn't a competitive thing, it's not chaotic, because it has a very clear logic on the top line, which just repeats and then the thing forms. We are very much interested in what mathematical logic, in how it expresses itself in form. Instead of copying flowers, which are also beautiful, as a pattern if you make a fence or a wallpaper or whatever. Because of the enormous technology power we now have, we can produce this very very easily.

CN: Now one question. How will this relate to the person who will witness it, or the user or the walk by-er?

RJ: For me, they will not see the logic, which is behind it. But I have a kind of a feeling that on an other level you experience that it is a very logical thing and that logic isn't always simplicity. Very logic things can relate to very complex and layered things. But, I think that on a visual level you understand it, I mean, you were talking about rhythm, this is very much rhythm, this is not noise, it is very much a rhythm, but it is different than music, because in music you expect the beginning of a song and then the middle and the end of the song. So, different, but this has got more to do with the visual logic, which is very very mathematical.

CN: I agree, and I think you're right that people recognize this. So, how does this relate to feelings and emotions?

RJ: For me, but that can be very personal, as we said some people get in their private space by one thing, for me looking at this can be just as good as looking into a fireplace. So, some people need a fireplace and look to the game of the flames and for me this could be also great, it is just the thing just to look at. This could be a sunscreen if we want to reduce the amount of light in the building, which, while I'm working and I need to kind of reset my head I can just look outsight and I can either see the city or whatever, the see, or maybe just gaze at something like that, just to put some noise or reset my thoughts and then be clear and see my own thoughts again.

CN: In earlier interviews somebody made the distinction between using technology or a space or something, you know, me the user, or to be engaged with, or to be in communion with, where in communion would be the creation of a shared meaning. Does this resonate, and how does this relate to this kind of experience?

RJ: It does not resonate completely with me. It does resonate in a way that you can be user of a space or a building or you can be part of the maker of that space. And maybe that is the reason why I just cut a hole in my room, because this is a room, this is a building we temporarily use. It's the formal headquarters of the ABN-AMRO bank. And well, I am the owner so I have the corner office, but at the same time I had the feeling that I needed to kind of react with the building, so we cut a big hole in there. It is an extra door, which gives me some more space or an escape, but at the same time I know very much as child the first time I drilled a hole in an internal wall, I think I was seven or eight, and it came out in the bathroom of my mothers and fathers place. So for the first time it was brought to me the concept that rooms aren't like spaces but that you can connect those spaces by drilling a hole into the wall. So for me that's kind of a participating thing.

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CN: So now you get to, well, you actually say that the experience of space, if you dare to touch it, you get engaged, and that changes the space.

RJ: That changes my whole perception of what a building was, for me as a child a building was kind of a given thing, like you had a stairway and different spaces connected to a stairway. But if you go from one space you always had to go trough the hallway or the stairway to another space. And then suddenly, just because I had to fix something to the wall I understood that there was some kind of a spatial relationship between those two confined spaces but with the appropriate tool, technology, I could connect those two spaces. It really changed my vision of the built world.

CN: So you know, this is my last question, and then you can say some wild stuff. With your buildings you create meaning, you build infrastructures that people attribute meaning to. How does that feel, how do you do it? Do you decide a meaning or do you let it evolve? Or is there a hole in space where you can say, oh I can put some meaning in it?

RJ: Oh no, I would feel very embarrassed because then it would be like a one-directional thing. It is not that I am a priest saying meaningful things or shaping meaningful things. No it feels much more like searching for meaning. Because there is so much … it is like this, I did not design this because those are like known technologies, their known patterns. The only thing that I do, for me it is meaningful in a way that it tells me something.

CN: Well, you talk to the person who witnesses it in an informal way?

RJ: Yeah, but it is, well, for me the most stimulating buildings is where I can see or feel the joy the designer had while finding it or inventing it. The joy of, well, the experience, the curiosity of, oh! Look at that! Some one had a really fun time doing this, and that gives me a lot of energy, that's why I like to relate to that and than of course you feel like, oh! Look! They solved that problem like that and we have been there as searchers and we have been there and we have taken another route and it is a very fruitful route they have found, how nice. So maybe the word meaning is for me not the right word but it is more how do I energize it so that other people get energized by itself or get stimulated by it. So they have a kind of motivation to do their thing. Challenged.

CN: Do you want to add something?

RJ: Well, I could go on, many questions. But thinking out loud for me, it was not a statement I thought of before. It is very much about we can influence our own environment and we can live our own lives and technology, for me, if you say how does it relate to each other, gives me wonderful, very powerful tools to do that, to make my space or a general space also for other people.

CN: But what is the requirement you have for the technology?

RJ: The requirement.. Oh! That's very simple; there should be zero footprint carbon energy and so on. We should be free to use it, it's like not wasting energy but it should be reusable in a way that is.. Well it is a great thing, if I would be alone in the forest, an axe is great because the tree grows again and the axe isn't really changed after I use it, so that's very sustainable and renewable. The technology, which we use, should be very re-usable technologies. I mean there are great technologies popping in. Very much in biology and technology, so we can grow buildings. That's what is happening today, for instance there is a material, you have sand and you spread some fluid over it and then it gets sandstone, and once you're done, you just grind it again. So that's what we need.

CN: And there are no requirements on how technology developers should think about you?

RJ: No, because it is much too complex because we will always think, it is like three steps ahead. And someone else, one step further, can also think three steps ahead, so one step further than I can think, or the technology can make. So a lot of technology is used today, which we never thought of when inventing. So I think the most important thing the technology inventors now a days is they should have fun inventing as long as it is not polluting and it is not using enormous amounts of energy, that's what we need.

CN: Thank you very much

RJ: My pleasure

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