Het Nieuwe Instituut and the City of Rotterdam have commissioned the Polder of Babel – a community of learning exploring the super-diverse city in the Antropocene. The project, by the Independent School for the City, is Rotterdam's parallel programme for Who is We? – the Dutch contribution to the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.

In the biennale, curator Hashim Sarkis poses the question, how will we live together? The counter-question, who is we? is central to the Dutch contribution, and will be connected to urban development of Rotterdam through the Polder of Babel.

The Netherlands, and in particular the port city of Rotterdam, has an international reputation for the invention and development of new landscapes and urban areas. This development has always relied on a sense of collective urgency and pragmatism in the face of the direst of circumstances. Today Rotterdam – like many cities around the world – is struggling to find a new balance between people and with nature. While on the one hand Rotterdam has proudly become the most diverse city of the Netherlands, with a fantastic bazaar of languages, cultures and identities, it also has to cope with large differences in income, housing situation and development opportunities between the various groups in the city. Simultaneously, it wants to be a green and resilient city while still depending on its fossil-based industry and economy. The Polder of Babel learning community will explore how a city this diverse and confusing can create the collective sense of urgency needed to build a new, green future for all.

Following the approach of the Independent School for the City as an interdisciplinary meeting place and knowledge exchange centre for (future) urban professionals, the community of learning will on the one hand scrutinise the city through the lens of the Anthropocene, the era in which Earth’s climate and atmosphere are strongly influenced by human activity. On the other hand, Rotterdam will be examined as a super-diverse city, which means a city whose population consists of a diverse mix of ethnicities.

The Polder of Babel has recently started off with a preliminary study in which the topics of the Anthropocene and super-diversity are being further explored and concretised through desk research, interviews, the analysis of illustrative projects and public (online) conversations. In the next phase, the Independent School for the City will work together with a group of 20 employees of the City of Rotterdam from various departments, as well as a selection of other spatial professionals who are active in the area. Together, we will explore different cases in Rotterdam through the lens of the Anthropocene and super-diversity in order to ground these comprehensive and sometimes unclear topics in the reality of Rotterdam. As part of this exploration the participants will also study the various contributions shown at the Venice Biennale during a visit to the exhibition in July 2021. The community of learning will result in a public event in September 2021, during which the collective results and observations of this community of learning will be presented to a larger audience. More information about the exact dates of the public (online) events will follow soon.   

In both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, a parallel programme is being developed for the Dutch pavilion. The Amsterdam parallel programme, Values for Survival, is curated by Caroline Nevejan, Chief Science Officer of the Municipality of Amsterdam.

About the Independent School for the City

The Independent School for the City is an international meeting place and knowledge exchange centre which approaches the contemporary city in an interdisciplinary, conceptual and pragmatic way. The school develops activities in which (future) professionals who work on the city are confronted with the complex issues faced by cities such as Rotterdam. It is an initiative of Crimson Historians and Urbanists and ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) and is rooted in their practices of combining a critical and activist approach to the city with effecting real change through architectural and planning projects. The Independent School for the City is founded on a strong belief in an incremental instead of a tabula rasa approach to city planning which blurs the lines between critique and practice on the one hand, and research and policy on the other.