International celebrations throughout 2019 marked the 100-year anniversary of the birth of the Bauhaus, the school for art, design and architecture that so profoundly shaped the 20th century. Founded in Weimar in Germany in 1919, the Bauhaus became an icon of the force for change that a young generation of artists hoped would erase the horrors of World War I. The school promoted a new approach to design and architecture. Reforming design, it placed its students’ work in a social and increasingly political context before it was forcibly closed down by the Nazis in 1933. In 2019, many museums and cultural institutions marked the centenary by organising historical surveys of works created by Bauhäusler and their followers. Het Nieuwe Instituut took a totally different approach, focusing not on the school’s production, but its founding principles. The Bauhaus aimed to ‘rethink the world’. Inspired by this motto, and with a similar sense of urgency, Het Nieuwe Instituut initiated Neuhaus, a temporary academy for more-than-human knowledge.
From mid-May to mid-September, Neuhaus took over the institute almost completely. The driving force behind the project was the realisation that the current period is defined by a complex of crises that are unfolding simultaneously and which are inextricably linked to accelerating technological developments. Traditional financial, political and social systems are collapsing. The planet is rapidly being destroyed, and the climate crisis is no longer a sectarian doomsday prophecy but an indisputable fact. The human creative urge is complicit in many of these developments. In their desire for innovation, designers and architects have contributed to overproduction, waste and the depletion of resources. They are now expected to deploy this same urge to provide solutions to these problems.
With this reality in mind, Neuhaus developed a broad curriculum with seven learning trails: Meeting Matter, Time Worlds, Collective Bodies, Multispecies Urbanism, More-than-human Languages, Other Subjectivities, and Extended Senses. Neuhaus challenged visitors and participants to contemplate other sources of knowledge besides human ingenuity. It also questioned the anthropocentric worldview that sees both technology and the planet as subordinate to the welfare of humanity. The learning trails were embedded in a diverse and intensive programme of physical experiences (installations), training courses, workshops, lectures, walks, film screenings, performances and (international) research meetings. Roughly half of the Neuhaus programme was conceived and produced by Het Nieuwe Instituut. The other half was based on an open call for external project proposals and involved an impressive group of more than 140 partners. Including researchers, design agencies, artists and educational institutions, they received support within the institute to realise their contributions.
In 2019, explorations of new roles for the design sector were not limited to Neuhaus. This perspective was also a recurring theme in the extremely well-attended programme of Thursday Night Live! Meanwhile in November teachers, lecturers and others involved in art education gathered for the Redesigning the Designer meeting. The notion that the anthropocentric focus of the design disciplines requires a fundamental revision is quite new. Nevertheless, in the past year it has become clear that the idea resonates strongly with the international community of designers, architects, curators and educators, and also that the public wants to be involved in this initiative. When Het Nieuwe Instituut published its annual Call for Fellows, this time with the theme BURN-OUT: Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale, no fewer than 197 project proposals were submitted from countries including Australia, Barbados, China, Egypt, France, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Italy, Peru, Romania and South Africa.
The artistic director of 2019’s 22nd Triennale di Milano was architecture and design curator Paola Antonelli. Her theme, Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival, had a similar starting point. Since design has contributed so much to the destruction of our natural habitat over the past decades, says Antonelli, it should at least be prepared to contribute to its restoration – wherever possible. At the invitation of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Het Nieuwe Instituut, in collaboration with external curator Angela Rui, contributed to Broken Nature. The installation I See That I See What You Don’t See, with works by various artists, architects and designers, focused on the effects of the brightly-lit contemporary nightscape that is now a global feature. To ensure optimum production, greenhouses in the Westland area, south of The Hague, are illuminated 24/7. Darkness is similarly banished in many other places around the world. But at what cost? When the installation moved to Rotterdam in September, the opening, attended by more than 1000 visitors, coincided with a symposium. In the packed auditorium, visitors listened to presentations whose main theme was darkness, including a spoken-word performance by Akwasi, current scientific research into the effects of working night shifts, and a plea for the development of a totally new understanding of architecture and urbanism, starting from a recognition of the importance of the planet.
It was only possible to develop I See That I See What You Don't See so quickly and with such broad involvement because Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department has been conducting research on automated landscapes since 2017, investigating and documenting the emergence of fully automated working landscapes. The results of this study were also exhibited, published and debated in 2019 in Mexico City (Mextrópoli conference), Hong Kong (Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts research programme) and Shenzhen (Automated Landscapes: Time, Cycles, Automata exhibition, part of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture 2019). These public presentations were possible thanks to an intensive partnership between the institute’s Research Department and Agency for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture, embassy staff and local partners.
The thematic and organisational interdependence of activities at various levels of Het Nieuwe Instituut is the result of a focused effort. That paid off in 2019. The institute has three distinct elements – the Museum for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture, the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning and the Agency for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture, backed up by the Research Department – and just as the institute seeks to strengthen the synergy between the design disciplines, it also does this within its own organisation. In 2016, the Research Department initiated Architecture of Appropriation, a study of squatting as an architectural practice. A year later, an exhibition was presented in Gallery 3, the spatial strategies of the squatters’ movement were discussed in numerous lectures and workshops, and a web magazine was created around the subject.
Simultaneously, research began into the implications for the composition of the National Collection. And in June 2019, the book Architecture of Appropriation: Between Institutions and Activist Practices was published, while the Agency addressed the subject through the symposium Frames of Resistance during the 2019 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in South Korea. In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science allocated 11 million euros to Het Nieuwe Instituut for its Closer to Architecture programme plan. Twelve projects were implemented in the spring of 2019. The terms ‘tenable’, ‘usable’ and ‘visible’ provide guidance in this regard. Work will continue until 2024 on improving the physical condition of the National Collection and on making it publicly accessible, both in physical and digital form.
This year, Het Nieuwe Instituut also began a strategic reorientation of its own heritage role. This has become all the more important since the Minister’s decision to regard much of the institute’s activities as heritage tasks from the start of the next Culture Plan period. With effect from 2021, the mediator role – invested in the Agency for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture – will be funded primarily from the Basic Infrastructure (BIS).
The institute and its partners have regularly drawn attention to the lack of government policy concerning archives relating to design and digital culture. The Speculative Design Archive exhibition, which explored possible future archival scenarios for these disciplines, closed in March 2019. The Ministry took up the gauntlet during the exhibition’s run: in consultation with Het Nieuwe Instituut and the BNO, it commissioned an inventory of important and endangered archives in the field of design and digital culture. The results of this investigation, with contributions from numerous organisations from both disciplines, were presented to the ministry at the beginning of July. Shortly thereafter, the minister decided to allocate a development budget to give organisations the opportunity to elaborate further the planning of the proposed decentralised archival facilities until the beginning of the new policy period. Entrusted with the preservation and administration of the National Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, Het Nieuwe Instituut fully grasps the importance of this heritage issue, which has begun to play an increasingly important role in the nation’s cultural policy.
In all respects, 2019 was a productive year for Het Nieuwe Instituut, in which a broad public enjoyed exhibitions such as The Hoodie, an international group of renowned specialists contributed to the compilation of the More-than-human Reader, the Rotterdam for Real programme connected the institute’s agenda with makers, venues and relevant spatial and social issues in the city, and the institute’s website grew to more than 6000 pages and 250 specialist web magazines.It was also a year in which five extremely well-attended FamilyFests were organised. Although they have only been held since 2018, FamilyFests are already a central feature of the city’s cultural calendar. Held during the school holidays, these events are especially popular with young families from Rotterdam.
Since the start of 2013, Het Nieuwe Instituut has enshrined the principle of inclusivity in terms of race, faith, age, gender, sexuality, cultural background, worldview, physical and mental disabilities, and the rest. Inclusivity is an absolute requirement to ensure that as many voices as possible are represented. Inclusivity is the starting point for the institute in its choice of partners and in its programming, for example in relation to the choice of subjects and line-up of the Thursday Night Live! programme. This is an ongoing process of learning, reflection and consciousness raising, including for the organisation itself. As an example, as part of The New Garden’s summer programme entitled Just Hanging Out, the architecture practice AFARAI used this theme to consider ownership, the value of ‘free’ public spaces, and how the presence of others has an impact on the experience and use of space, in particular in relation to The New Garden itself.
As part of International Women’s Day, Het Nieuwe Instituut invited everyone to participate in the project The Reversed Woman in the Study Centre. All books with male authors or subjects were turned with their spines facing inwards. At the end of the week, only the spines of books written by women or about female architects or designers could be seen. Through this intervention, Het Nieuwe Instituut aimed to expose and discuss the role of gender within the fields of architectural research and practice. The action elicited violent reactions on social media.
At the beginning of 2019, the public toilets in the institute’s foyer were made gender neutral and thus accessible to all, regardless of gender identity or expression. Since the autumn of 2019, the institute has entered into a multi-project partnership with the Rotterdam-based collective Concrete Blossom. Members were closely involved in the programming around the exhibition The Hoodie and in the development of a youth programme. In addition, the collective is involved, in a disruptive fashion, in the daily running of the institute. With unsolicited advice, extra programming and, for example, proposals for the development of a Human Resources strategy, these activities contribute to the essential – and sometimes uncomfortable – dialogue with countless different voices in the field. They simultaneously support research into strategies around inclusivity. After all, within the fractured design field, Het Nieuwe Instituut aims to be both pluralistic and unifying.