stichting architectuurmuseum

I found the missing link at the NDB. NDB stands for Netherlands Documentation Center for Architecture (=Bouwkunst), an institution to host a significant collection of architectural drawings discovered in the attic of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in the early seventies, a time of increased interest in the built environment throughout Western Europe. At this NDB start-up, I served eighteen months of civil duty from mid-1975. My task was to assist its two employees: Fons Asselbergs, an art historian and the custodian, and Dick van Woerkom, an architect and the collector of the institution. That task turned out to be a steep learning curve in the fields of modern architecture and the making of an architectural exhibition. In retrospect, the interdisciplinarity of the entire adventure profoundly shaped my profile as a designer.

sybold van ravesteyn
detail of the Van Ravesteyn score, June 1977

The NDB was also the headquarters of the Stichting Architectuurmuseum (SAM), a foundation that aspired to establish a museum of architecture. Its path was the realization of and participation in a series of architectural exhibitions, all based on the extensive collections of the NDB. As a result of these activities, all sorts of researchers spent time in the archive. That’s how I met Wim de Wit, Nancy J. Troy, Maristella Casciato, and many others. At the end of my term, an exhibition about the architect Sybold van Ravesteyn was planned. The curators felt that the show needed some form of implicit commentary. They knew I had experimented with soundtrack-controlled slide projections and asked me to design an atmospheric audiovisual commentary on their subject. That’s how I got my first assignment when I had no clue yet how to make a living.

le temps des gares

In Paris, in January 1977, the Centre Georges Pompidou was inaugurated. That same year, one of its departments, the Centre de Création Industrielle, initiated an exhibition on the subject of the railway station. Jean Dethier, the curator of the exhibition, wanted to research the extent to which the railway station, as a new phenomenon of the late 19th century, influenced the layout of major cities like Paris, Brussels, London, Milano, Amsterdam, etcetera. The exhibition Le Temps des Gares, as it was called, was to be a collaborative project with international partners from Belgium, the UK, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Dutch partner institutions were the NDB and the Stichting Architectuurmuseum. Fons Asselbergs and I were responsible for the Dutch contribution. Working in such an ambitious environment was a quintessential experience that implied a steep learning curve in the art of making exhibitions.

johan niegeman

The Van Ravesteyn audiovisual was a simple 2×2 multi-screen slide projection with a straightforward narration soundtrack and moody music. However, it was pretty new in the context of an exhibition, and I enjoyed making it. More importantly, the press liked it as well. I told myself, if I like it and they like it, why not make it a profession? And so it happened. A year later, the Stichting Architectuurmuseum invited me to make another audiovisual for their exhibition on the architect Johan Niegeman, who had co-created the city of Magnitogorsk in Russia in the thirties. This project was a chance to introduce new elements in my composition: an interview with a fellow Russian traveler, ambient sound and elaborate graphics, historical documents, and staged photography in his house in Blaricum. In terms of audiovisual design, this one was far more advanced than the Van Ravesteyn program. Nevertheless, it was a fully flat phenomenon projected on a wall in just another exhibition room. Naturally, space itself would get involved in the next one.

Johan Niegeman and colleagues in Magnitogorsk, 1930s
Bé and Johan Niegeman at their residence in Blaricum, 1970s.

Bé Niegeman and Wil Sluis at the Niegeman residence in Blaricum, 1979

the awakening

In the spring of 1979, I met the artist Hans Hamers at the NDB. Hamers was obsessed with the apocalyptic dimensions of life in the metropolitan jungle. To test its conditions, he constructed his version of Noah’s Ark and lived there for three months, first in the docklands, later in Amsterdam’s red light district, where its Chinese inhabitants quickly expelled him. In this setting, Hamers planned a film shoot for his movie The Awakening, starring the Dutch author and poet Bert Schierbeek as the rainmaker. There was a procession with various colorful people staged on the Zeedijk that ran through Chinatown, and Hans asked me to cover the event with still pictures like the ones below.

Bert Schierbeek and Sarah Pront on the film set of The Awakening in Amsterdam, August 25, 1979
nooit gebouwd nederland
Grafisch Nederland, 1980 edition

For a visual designer to get the chance to curate and make the so-called Kerstnummer (Christmas issue) of the branch magazine, Grafisch Nederland, is an opportunity of extraordinary proportions. It happened to us: Cees de Jong, Willem Schilder, and me in 1980. We came up with a concept inspired by the publication Unbuilt America. Because I had close ties with the NDB and its extensive collection of Dutch architecture, we decided to make an Unbuilt Netherlands publication as well. When the selection committee picked our plan, we invited the author Cees Nooteboom to write an essay and the art historian Wim de Wit and the architect Dick van Woerkom to be the co-curators of the project.

projection layout Unbuilt Netherlands, 1980
architect Tjaarda Mees built the model for this panorama
exhibition catalogue Bouwcentrum, Rotterdam, 1980

The making of the Nooit Gebouwd Nederland was a job of honor, not only because the printing industry mobilized every know-how available but also because it created the opportunity to extend the scope of the project with an exhibition in the Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam. This exhibition presented original plans from the collection of the NDB, together with a 180-degree, 5-screen slide show that mixed blow-ups of dream plans with street view panoramas of the locations where the architecture was meant for. The visuals were underpinned by an atmospheric soundtrack in which Cees Nooteboom’s narrative was central. The layout of the projection was semi-circular and had, despite its rudimentary form, a spatial character.

selected projects
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Centre Georges Pompidou, 13 december 1978 – 9 april 1979