da: Giampiero Sanguigni, Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Edilstampa, Roma, 2011
Michiel Riedijk graduated together with Juliette Bekkering in 1989 with a thesis that proposed an architectural transposition of the Odyssey (1). The future architects imagined a voyage undertaken within a period of 24 hours,winding through a series of buildings/events, designed to reflect the spirit of Homer’s characters. It was not a philological reading, but a work that combined various suggestions, often contaminating the characters/buildings with influences from other fields.The site chosen for the project, Italy’s Lake Maggiore, features a confined spatial dimension, far from the indeterminacy and extension of Homer’s travels.
An analogous discourse can be made of the temporal dimension, restricted to the period of a single day. Bekkering and Riedijk transformed the “cliché” of characters from the Odyssey into the “effective space” of the project, where the elevations, plans and sections project the founding elements of the psychology of Homer’s characters into a built world. The choice of Lake Maggiore as the site of the graduate thesis was the result of simultaneously practical and conceptual reasons.
We chose that part of Italy because Juliette’s parents lived there. [ ] In reality, there is a connection with the history of Italian garden architecture, where the design was closely related with literature. In the gardens of Count Orsini in Bomarzo, for example, there exists a direct tie between poetic narrative and architectural representation. In the Boboli Gardens in Tivoli, there is a relation between Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the architectural layout. We chose a site in Northern Italy, Lake Maggiore, also for this aspect: the connection between a Renaissance tradition and the presence, in the centre of the lake, of the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori, where there is a strong narrative component in architecture, as well as the very configuration of the island that resembles a stone boat (2).
Homer was assumed as a model because his work represents the first literary text of Western culture, but also because his story speaks essentially of a voyage, a voyage that the two graduates interpreted as an exploration of the boundaries of their future profession.
The idea of the Homeric voyage is very similar to the way we approach design. At the beginning of the voyage you are aware of the destination, but unaware of what you will encounter along the way. The same happens in design. When you complete a work you have a sensation of relief, similar to when you return home after travelling. The first idea of the thesis was that of investigatine the theme of movement, of the movement of a body through space, but also movement through time, a fundamental component in the work of Homer. The intent of our work was also that of defining a new way of looking at architecture. [...] The thesis was, in this sense, a voyage towards the edges of our profession (3).
The itinerary of the thesis begins with the Vertrekgebouw (the building of departure), a building designed for the purification of travellers (fig. 3). The latter pass through a space whose dividing partitions are created by water falling from the ceiling. There is thus a summation of the fear of walking through the cascades, with a ritual tied to purification, an idea that would later be found at the base of the solution for the central hall of the Minnaert Building (1988).
The itinerary continues and arrives at the drijvende pandemonium van Aeolus (4), later brushing against the towers of Scilla and Charybdis, entering into the labyrinthine library of Ade, the Merzbau of Calypso (perhaps a reference to the work of Kurt Schwitters), the building of Circe, passing by the Sirens and Cyclops, arriving at the building representing Penelope.
The Cyclops (figg.2,5), towers that resemble windmills without blades, feature a form that recalls the Nazi bunkers of the Atlantic Wall documented by Paul Virilio in Bunker Archeology (5); while Penelope (fig.6), a boxy building that looks towards the sea, mimicking a condition of waiting, has a form and relationship with context that refers to the Villa Malaparte (fig.7), constructed on Cape Masullo in Capri and described, not by accident, by Bruce Chatwin as a “Homeric ship marooned on dry land"(6).
The panoramic side of Penelope is a single large window, a precursor of the many “periscopic” forms that Neutelings and Riedijk, as well as Bekkering, would realise over the years. The graduates’ intentions to underline the character of the buildings through a process of personification are evident. This search for anthropomorphic identity would also accompany future works and their representation.
From Leon Battista Alberti onwards, this anthropomorphic component of architecture has always been very present. Alberti’s idea was that projects must have a sort of completeness, comparable to the human body. Our idea of architecture anthropomorphism is not one of the driving elements of our ideas. What is important is that in our work we are continually searching for intangibile characteristics, not necessarily based on the visual component of design. [...] Jan Willem and I represent two parts of the same brain. Our office is, on the one hand, extremely precise and rational and, on the other, seeks to develop such intangibile elements as: wind, light, sound and intimacy. In this sense there is a strong tie with what we have done as students, but at the same time we have sought to move towards a new form of synthesis (7).
After the preparation of the thesis, Cyclopes at the urban scale would be born: periscopes overlooking the Maas River, residential buildings set in the North Sea like guardians and speaking objects covered with texts that reveal their content.
This parallel between architecture and the human body, between the identity of a character and that of a building, would be reinforced by many sketches, drawn by the office in the style of cartoons, to emphasise their nature. This graphic tool would later be used to mark the layout of the issue of El Croquis dedicated to Neutelings Riedijk (1999), where the initial pages of each single project were introduced by a cartoon, in the style of the Dutch illustrator Joost Swarte. The drawings, realised by hand and coloured with pantone, would become one of the distinctive features of the Rotterdam office.
One week after the discussion of their thesis, Michiel Riedijk and Juliette Bekkering were called by Neutelings and Roodbeen to participate in the preparation of the competition project for the new EPO (European Patent Office).
After winning the competition, Michiel Riedijk decided to remain with the office in Rotterdam, while Juliette Bekkering decided to continue her education in Barcelona.
The year 1992 marked the birth of the office of Neutelings Riedijk Architects. From this moment onwards, their projects would reveal the nature of both authors: one more urban and rational, the other interested in emphasising the identity of the architectural object.
1. Riedijk and Bekkering’s thesis was published in: Arthur Wortmann, Voyage Architectural. Een Odyssee voor de archiprix, Archis 3, 1991, pp. 13-25.
2. Interview with Michiel Riedijk, Rotterdam, 24 June 2010.
3. Ibid., 16.
4. The floating pandemonium of Eolo.
5. Paul Virilio, Bunker Archeology, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.
6. see: Bruce Chatwin, “Tra le rovine” (Amongst the Ruins), in Casabella n. 648, September 1997, pp. 6-10.
7. Ibid., 16.
1. Juliette Bekkering and Michiel Riedijk. Plans of the Penelope building, 1989
2. Juliette Bekkering and Michiel Riedijk. Plans of the Cyclops building, 1989
3. Juliette Bekkering and Michiel Riedijk. Plan of the Vertrek Gebouw, 1989.
4. Paul Virilio, photograph of a Nazi bunker from the Atlantic Wall, in Bunker Archaeology, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.
5. Juliette Bekkering and Michiel Riedijk. Elevation of the Cyclops building, 1989
6. Juliette Bekkering and Michiel Riedijk. View of the Penelope building, 1989.
7. Adalberto Libera/Curzio Malaparte, Villa Malaparte, Capri (1938-1941).
8. Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Shipping and Transport College, Rotterdam, 2001-2005. Photo: Giampiero Sanguigni
9. Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Housing, Muller Pier, Rotterdam, 1998-2005. Photo: Giampiero Sanguigni
10. Neutelings Riedijk Architects, De Sfinxen Housing, Huizen, 1994-2003. Photo: Giampiero Sanguigni.
11. Neutelings Riedijk: cartoon presentation of the project for the new auditorium in Bruges (competition, 1998).
12. Neutelings Riedijk: Wijnhaven-Blaak, apartment tower, Rotterdam, 2003