How do you create a building that contributes to a neighbourhood without imposing too much in advance? This question is central to the graduation of architecture students Anne-Sophie Wouters (25) and Guus Speelberg (27). Wouters designed a learning environment in the Tarwewijk, Speelberg is working on multifunctional sports facilities in the same district, "My ultimate goal is to really, really build something".
Guus Speelberg studied architecture because he liked tall buildings. Although the beauty of the skyscraper still fascinates him, he has lost interest in building them himself. "You cannot help but wonder what a tall building can add to social problems in Rotterdam".
How did you end up at the Veldacademie?
Speelberg: "I wanted to work on a social theme, get out of my comfort zone. At first I considered a project in Ghana, but it ended up becoming a project the Veldacademie. Why go all the way to the other side of the world to solve problems, while on the other side of your own river there are also countless problems that need a solution? A studio in your own city, with people you would otherwise never meet, I found that interesting".
"When I started at the Veldacademie, I soon knew that my ultimate goal is to really, really build something. So, in consultation with the Veldacademie, I joined an ongoing project: Campus Tarwewijk". Campus Tarwewijk is a project of the Municipality of Rotterdam to redesign and add greenery to public squares in the Tarwewijk area. Together with partners in the district, the Veldacademie also wants to organise activities in the renewed public space. Several students are graduating in relation to this subject, including Guus Speelberg.
You have thought about a programme for sports and exercise?
"Yes, there are few sports facilities in the district, most of the sports fields are on the outskirts of town. Sporting activities are important for a neighbourhood, it can contribute to social cohesion and talent development. But most people can't or don't want to leave the neighbourhood for sporting activities. So you have to place as many facilities as possible within the district itself, I think. The challenge is how to do that in a densely populated area like the Tarwewijk, where space is already scarce. Can you make smart and multifunctional use of that space?
You write in your vision that you are looking for a mix of accommodation and traffic, with many functions. You keep it very open.
"Yes, also because you see that where there is a lot of traffic and accommodation, it becomes livelier. Places that are only for staying are taken over a bit faster by vagrants and drunk or disorderly people from within Tarwewijk. I am working on an interpretation of the public space that is sometimes public and sometimes organized. That can be done with very small interventions in the public space. For example, by placing a dressing room or toilet there. Think of a sports field that, after a sports club has finished using it, is open again for the whole neighbourhood and through which you can walk even if you don't play sports".
"I was inspired by Frank van Klingeren who created an indoor forum in Dronten, De Meerpaal. It is a box with twenty different functions close to each other, not very handy, but because of that, it is fun. It contains a theatre, a sports field, a restaurant, a place where children get lessons and shops. Because of this accumulation of functions, it attracts many different target groups, hopefully people who differ from each other will come across each other. I also think the Zuiderparkplaza is a good example. There are many sports facilities here, and it is very flexible. You can play free sports but you can also take part in organised activities.”
Anne-Sophie Wouters also worked on a project in Tarwewijk, even before Campus Tarwewijk started.
"My starting point was the expansion of primary schools in the south of Rotterdam (Zuid). Because of the NPRZ (National Programme Rotterdam South), children in Zuid receive ten extra hours of lessons in culture and sport every week. How are schools going to fill in that time? Within the school or outside? Children hardly ever leave the neighbourhood. Expanding the learning time offers a great opportunity to broaden your horizons, but if you still spend that learning time at school, it doesn't really increase the children's frame of reference. I looked at whether we could create a common place outside the schools for cultural education. So that the children see more than just the classroom."
"The building I designed for this has two parts. On the ground floor is a public layer. There are studios for artists who live and work there for a year, the artist in residence principle. The idea is that they make their work visible to young people who can just walk in. So to give an incentive. And it also creates a bit of blending between the current residents of the neighbourhood and new residents. On the floors above it is the learning environment for the primary schools, including a theatre, a sports hall, workshops and a library".
What was the biggest architectural challenge?
Wouters: "The biggest challenge is definitely to create a place with a programme and yet still have enough say for the residents of the neighbourhood. Interviews with young people reveal that they miss a place for themselves, a place that they can take over, where they can show off their talents. So I do not want to impose what needs to be done in the space and what it looks like, but I do want to give an incentive. People need to recognise the space: this space is public, so it's not my space, but I can do something in it".
The cultural building, Talent Lab, is part of a larger structure that Wouters devised for the district. "I did not want to make a separate place with a separate building, but to make something that connects everything together. That has become the urban framework. It is literally a steel structure that takes on a different form every time in all those public places in the neighbourhood. In one place it is a building, in another a stage, in another place a playground. But it is always recognizable as that framework".
What is it like to graduate from the Veldacademie?
Wouters: "It was an enormous challenge to start your project all by yourself right from the start. That is something we are not at all used to or learned. You do not get a ready-made project with a problem that you can give substance to. But it is completely your own thing. Someone in the neighbourhood told me that so much is imposed on the youth that it has to be more about accidentally encountering something in the neighbourhood. I've made that theme leading in my design: accidentally meeting something nice".
Speelberg agrees: "The great thing about working at the Veldacademie is that it is incredibly practical. You make your design in consultation with stakeholders and residents from the neighbourhood. I have been in the neighbourhood non-stop for the past four weeks. I have talked to playground associations, the major sports providers, the schools in the neighbourhood, youth organisations and general practitioners in the neighbourhood. And we will soon be standing in the neighbourhood with an ice cream cart and coffee and calling people to come up with ideas".
Wouters: "Yes, I think one of the challenges at the Veldcademie is to translate the identity of a neighbourhood into a building. But instead of translating what you have in mind, you are going to translate what future users have in mind. I think that is a very nice combination of what you learn in a training to become an architect and what you learn from a neighbourhood".