Rotterdam (the Netherlands) 4-11 April 1974
Changing conditions II: the consumer society
The meeting in Rotterdam was overshadowed by the death of Shadrach Woods in the summer of 1973. The Smithsons formulated the ‘theme’ of the meeting as follows: the ‘Implication of Team X thoughts as we now see it after Shad’s death in the light of time that has passed and the architectural responsibility now left to us’.
Organization of the meeting was dealt with by Bakema’s office. The discussions that took place in the ‘shop’ under his office on Posthoornstraat were recorded on tape. Several visits were paid to Bakema’s completed projects, in particular to his town hall in Terneuzen and the psychiatric clinic in Middelharnis. Van Eyck’s Pastoor Van Ars Church in The Hague and Herman Hertzberger’s Centraal Beheer office building in Apeldoorn were also visited.
Discussions began with ideas for a book about the importance of Woods’ ideas — a book which never saw the light of day, among other reasons because of the posthumous publication of Woods’ own Man In the Street. The participants quickly moved on to discuss how architects collaborated, both within Team 10 and within the practice of Candilis-Josic-Woods. Candilis treated the subject with some circumspection. He noted the emergence of several differences of approach, especially since 1960, but assured his listeners that all concepts originated within the firm, and that he, Josic and Woods had been equally responsible for them. Another apparent incongruity that Candilis touched on occurred early in the collaboration. On the one hand, he pointed out, an équipe is not achieved without effort but is the outcome of a process in which the collaborators each take their own responsibility; he therefore did not believe there was one single moment that could be identified as the ‘birth of a philosophy’. On the other hand, he stated that the idea of the Free University derived from the projects executed in Morocco in the early 1950s. ‘In Morocco with Shad, we began to work on an idea of a special conception to create place. Certainly the special concept was influenced by the Soukhs of Marakesh. These had two phenomena: two which always existed; spontaneity and diversity; with the ›main street‹ of the Soul as ›the skeleton‹.’
One of the main differences between Candilis and Woods was their attitudes towards technology. Candilis spoke of his dismay at the problems arising from the façade system used for the Free University. Construction of the FU was years behind due to the use of this system, which was originally developed by Prouvé. The concrete-built university building in Toulouse had by contrast experienced no construction problems whatsoever, Candilis asserted.
A difference of opinion had also arisen on the function of technology and materials as means of communicating with the user. Candilis furthermore considered that the transition from the general design of the FU to a fully detailed version was too abrupt; there should in his view have been an inter-mediate step. Differences between departments in the FU building were now indicated by signage and colour differences. Candilis thought this was making the best of a bad job.
The visits to Bakema’s town hall and Hertzberger’s office building provided a basis for long talks on social and political developments and the changing position of the architect. Alison Smithson characterized Terneuzen town hall as a ‘historic’ building in that it was made for a period that was already past. It was designed for the ‘free society’, which in her view was a hallmark of the post-war democratic welfare state and which existed by virtue of mutual trust between people and between citizens and their government. The rise of consumerism based on a ‘labour union society’ had undermined the basis of that mutual trust. As an emblem of the Dutch tradition of a free society, Alison Smithson cited the paintings of Pieter de Hoogh: ‘then it comes to the second thing of the town hall — that is, if you see a Pieter de Hoogh painting, the quality and the pleasure in materials and possessions is, inside-the-house and outside-the-house, absolutely equal.’
Hertzberger’s building received a much more critical reaction. The discussion took place in the absence of Hertzberger, so the critique went unchallenged. The prevailing opinion was that the Centraal Beheer headquarters conformed too eagerly to the idea of the new consumer society. It forced you, according to Peter Smithson, to choose over and over again from all the possibilities the architect offered the user: ‘in the Hertzberger building, everything was on display, two million objects saying: ›You have to consume‹.’
The visit to Van Eyck’s church had an entirely different effect on the participants. Sandra Lousada, who took the portrait photos of Team 10 in the church interior, recalled that the moment the visitors entered the church was the first time the group fell silent.
Dirk van den Heuvel
Team 10 members present
organized by Bakema
Giancarlo De Carlo
Aldo van Eyck
Oswald Mathias Ungers