Dispatch from Rotterdam and the IABR

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Dispatch from Rotterdam and the IABR

In architecture-happy Rotterdam, a year-long conference and exhibition takes a look at the “Open City” and how to design coexistence.

The Biennale’s home at the Netherlands Architecture Institute.

I had the good fortune to spend the Thanksgiving weekend in Amsterdam, where I did the predictable, tourist-y things — walked by canals, checked out Vermeers, and drank a few Heinekens. But there came a pleasant surprise in the form of a stopover in Rotterdam — a city very different from Amsterdam, in several ways. First, the urban community is poorer and far more ethnically diverse (recent estimates place the Muslim population at 25%), and since it was almost totally destroyed by German bombs in World War II, Rotterdam has nary an “old” building to speak of. Therefore, its built environment consists of many, many bland, 50s-era structures, but also dozens of exciting works of innovative architecture, from bridges to malls to skyscrapers to museums.


Housing in central Rotterdam.

So Rotterdam — a city at once very old and very new, and one that’s rapidly changing both demographically and structurally — seemed a very appropriate place to find the 4th annual International Architecture Biennale, “Open City: Designing Coexistence,” running from September 2009 through mid-January (not to be confused with Open Cities, a new-media themed conference that NAC hosted in October). In a large, bright building across from the stately Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, anyone can wander in and check out models of collaborative urban living from around the world, as well as a large library and bookstore, films and a number of other programs, all relating to the concept of an “Open City” and a series of sub-themes, like connectivity, migration, access, and segregation — with, of course, plenty of talk about Jane Jacobs.

The ongoing event program contains keynote lectures from the likes of Kees Christiaanse, Abdou Maliq Simone, and Saskia Sassen, among others, a documentary film program, as well as workshops, conferences, seminars, and symposia such as a masterclass from the Berlage Institute, a symposium on the relevance of Jane Jacobs in the Dutch context organized by Trancity, a roundtable on “The Right to the City,” and a seminar with Ethiopian students in Rotterdam. On Fridays, there’s something called “open podium,” during which a local “cultural ambassador” hosts a performance, presentation, or discussion related to the theme of that week.


A better view of the NAi.

Just wanted to point this out to any city enthusiasts making a trip to the Netherlands over the holidays. Rotterdam is only about 45 minutes by train from Amsterdam — and the Rijksmuseum is mostly closed down at the moment, anyway. Enjoy!

Tags: open citiesnetherlandsrotterdamamsterdam

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