How is the architecture school at VIT

Architecture of freedom
"We live in a time when politics has suddenly become very important"

David Mulder van der Vegt is one of the founders of the architecture office XML, whose interests range from the design of the hall of the Council of Europe to that of tiny vitamin shops. The architect has always asked himself whether political orientations are reflected in the design of legislative organs. The book came into being as a result of these considerations Parliament, an analysis of 193 parliaments in different countries around the world. Van der Vegt talks about why it is not possible to develop an algorithm for democracy and how political systems resist or accept change.
 

From Marina Anzipjerowa

You often quote a phrase from Churchill: "First we shape our buildings, and then the buildings shape us." In your opinion, what influence does architecture have on us today?
 
Our deliberations began with a very simple observation: we looked at the UK House of Commons and thought about how political debates unfold in a room where people are seated opposite one another.

Of course, we immediately compared that with the Dutch parliament, which - like many other parliaments in continental Europe - is built in a semicircle. If you look at these two rooms, you can easily imagine that the atmosphere in them is completely different. We all know that the atmosphere of a conversation is different when you sit across from each other than when you sit next to each other.

After looking at some legislative bodies, I found it interesting to think about how their premises send out a certain reference signal for politics.

The book “Parliament” | www.parliamentbook.comThat leads us to a very good logic question: what do you think does a building consolidate a system, or is it the other way around?
 
I don't think there is only one right answer, but of course architecture influences political processes. We started talking about Churchill, and I would find it interesting to tell the whole story to the end: During World War II, the London House of Parliament was destroyed. There has been a lot of argument about whether to rebuild it in the shape of a semicircle. And then Churchill turned to Parliament and uttered that famous phrase. The British Parliament building had been designed 600 years earlier, and then it was simply a church where Parliament had started to assemble.

Two benches that had been in the building of a monastery became the starting point for the British political system: This has always consisted of a confrontation between two parties.
But when any third party gained strength, the question arose every time which side they should be put on. So architecture only enabled the development of a particular culture; it made other variants impossible.

Structural diagrams of parliaments in different countries of the world | www.parliamentbook.com What do you mean: If we change the architecture of the Duma, can that change our country too?
 
More like the atmosphere of the debates: You are moving into a new house and your life is being organized differently. Even if the change is just being able to sit by the window in this new house while you have coffee in the morning, that transformation could mean a great many others. That's why new office buildings are being built: so that a new atmosphere is created.
A change in the architecture of a parliament would definitely make a change, but regardless of whether it has a decisive influence on the whole of political culture ... I don't think so. However, instability as a result of such changes can lead to something new.

At least fewer people would sleep in our Duma - and everyone could finally see each other.
 
I can tell you an anecdote on the subject: many European parliaments are currently being rebuilt - they are in buildings that, at best, were built in the seventeenth century. So that it does not have to interrupt its work during the renovation work, Parliament will be outsourced during this temporary renovation work, and it is astonishing that in the new location the furnishings of the old halls are reproduced down to the smallest detail. This supports my hypothesis that architecture absorbs a political structure: as soon as you start to change something, this structure destabilizes and politicians try to preserve it with all possible means.

Whitestore. A vitamin shop in Amsterdam with an area of ​​50 square meters. | www.x-m-l.org/We often see old carpets - even in new buildings where government structures are located. What do you think, what should be done: to put it metaphorically, pull the rug from under people's feet?
 
Or think about what this rug symbolizes and how to get its meaning but work with it in a more modern form. As was done, for example, in the new building of the Museum Garage: The details of the old restaurant have been retained, but the whole thing has been given a new structure, which also gives it a new meaning.

And as far as the parliament buildings are concerned - we have analyzed 193 buildings all over the world - it was an astonishing discovery for us that, although each of them thought themselves to be unique, basically only five different types can be made out: Either the benches are facing each other, in a semicircle or in a horseshoe shape. And then there is a hybrid form of the first two types, the circle, and the “school form” in which everyone sits and looks at the teacher, just like in your Duma.

All of these typologies were developed in the 19th century - and have not been changed since then. But today, or so it seems to me, these structures have become more open and architects can participate in their change. Architecture brings together many common forces: economic, political and so on. It can be a difficult task to try this experiment to give a new meaning to collectively used space.
 
Are there rules for architects for building a democracy?
 
I believe that it is impossible to draw up a clear, straightforward timetable here. The political culture of any country is made up of very specific components. Yes, we have five types of parliaments, but these are loaded with different symbols. If you ask me how to reinterpret the architecture of a legislative building, I suggest you not make it too big and flexible so that it can be adapted to different situations.
 
In Europe, parliaments were built like houses for the government elites - and in a way they looked like theaters. But the more complicated the politics, the more complicated these buildings also became, and in them new spaces were created for different types of gatherings.
 
It would be interesting to design a flexible space suitable for both plenary and smaller meetings. It would also be important to think about how necessary it is to always meet in the same place - but the establishment of a “mobile parliament” could also destabilize the concept of power.
The new interior of one of the meeting rooms in the Council of Europe. The project was implemented in 2016 and is the result of long deliberations by architects about what a parliamentary hall should look like in a democratic world: A convertible room made up of 28 individual pieces of furniture (i.e. the number of European countries) can be used for smaller meetings as well as for general assemblies.

The new interior of one of the meeting rooms in the Council of Europe | www.x-m-l.org/ How did you come to realize a number of political projects - for example the design of the UN building in Bonn and the meeting room in the Council of Europe?
 
For us, architecture is an approach to looking at the world that can be expressed in different forms. Sometimes the building, sometimes exhibitions or books. It is interesting for us to think about the forces shaping architecture today, what it means to live today, and in what form we can do that.

It seems to me that we live in a world in which politics has suddenly become very important - and that's why politics is so present in our projects. But we not only work with the UN or the Council of Europe, we also build night clubs or plan new businesses. We are interested in how architecture can open up new spaces in which people interact with each other.

You said that politics has become very important in our time and that it cannot be ignored. But isn't the relationship between architecture and politics a problem that has been an issue for ages?
 
Yes, but in the 1990s, a lot of people had seen the end of history and the end of the market economy. I believe that we are living in a different era today and that the conversation about how to look at society differently is more active today than ever.

Draft for the UN building in Bonn. The facade is designed in such a way that it reflects the first rays of sunshine and does not heat up in summer, and the small garden symbolically unites all countries: each delegate should plant their own plant here according to the plan of the architectural team. | www.x-m-l.org/For your book on Parliament, you let your study run for a full five years - what circumstances allowed you to conduct such a long research project and how did it change you?
 
The pragmatic answer is that we managed to convince foundations to support us. And the project itself consisted of different parts - workshops with students, participation in the XIV Architecture Biennale and a trip to dozen of countries to see how parliaments around the world are built and how they work.

Our dream now is to build a parliament building. That would be a wonderful way to end our book. But we also took a lot with us during this study: how people interact with each other and how architecture influences them. Parliament is an extreme example, but de facto it symbolizes a universal debate about how public space can be designed.
 
David Mulder van der Vegt traveled to Moscow to take part in the “Architecture and Freedom” discussion organized jointly by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the Goethe Institute Moscow and the MARCH School of Architecture.