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a life in architecture alain de botton

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The recently published SuperDutch, by Bart Lootsma (AJ 12.10.00), has made novelist Alain de Botton reflect on how going Dutch can change your life. He believes that 'the Dutch do modern living very well', and is particularly impressed by the work of the architect Wiel Arets.

He singles out Arets' AZL Pension Fund Headquarters in Heerlen, a rectangular concrete box with lots of steel, grass on the roof and a little Zen-like interior courtyard with a single tree and a bench. 'It uses all the staples of modern architecture but puts them together so that the building seems simple without being austere.'

Another favourite is the Academy of Arts and Architecture in Maastricht, with its skillful use of glass blocks and concrete.

'When architects in Britain use concrete it seems to go wrong a lot of the time, ' says de Botton. Arets' work suggests a certain way of living which appeals to the novelist: 'Very sober, democratic and modern without being fussy or pretentious. . . Aretsian.'

These virtues are also found in a Victorian house in London's East End which was converted by David Adjaye and William Russell for artist Chris Ofili. 'They've recognised that there's no point in having a fake tiny garden so they've sunk a studio below the garden and paved it over with concrete and glass bricks. They've made it modern in quite a Dutch way.' It fits one of de Botton's criteria for a good building: he would like to live there.

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