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SuperDutch - putting the visions into perspective

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Dutch architecture is being promoted in the UK like nobody's business.At the recent RIBA/ Thames and Hudson promotion of the new book SuperDutch, we learned that the Royal Netherlands Embassy has helped fund a number of recent events in London. How often does the British Embassy do the same thing abroad? And if it does, how often does it see fit to promote any but the most obvious established practices as safe British exports?

The current line of thinking, expounded by Bart Lootsma, critic and Berlage Institute professor, is that contemporary Dutch architects are producing some of the most innovative ideas and work in new architecture in the world. Lootsma encapsulates the agenda behind it as the search for, and expression of, a 'second modernity', which has rendered the old term Modernism 'almost a dirty word'. He dates the emergence of this phenomenon back to 1990, and the overwhelming influence of Rem Koolhaas - also described by architect Lars Spuybroek of Nox as one of two 'perfect post-graduate institutions' in the Netherlands, the other being the 'Grand System'of grant-funded masters education at overseas schools.

Lootsma suggests this concern with defining a 'second modernity' has led to a falling away of interest 'in styles and architecture'per se, and a focus on the new uses that buildings need to accommodate in a society best read as 'a complex and stable field of mobile forces.'But he also suggests that within this process of definition, the culture of 'consensusbuilding' is very important; and Spuybroek suggests that the recent emphasis on research and 'diagramming' in architecture has even led to a revolt against the concept of design altogether: 'A few offices are using diagramming as a machine to invent architecture.'

All of this suggests a somewhat emotionless, even mechanistic approach to architecture, which was indeed suggested by both Spuybroek and Maas.Spuybroek's sub-Vorticist style architecture, generated through datascape models, and MVRDV's investigations into the potential for stacking 'natural matter' - such as trees and pigs - within buildings in the city landscape, look wild and radical to the outsider, but in practice may boil down to something quite matter-of-fact.This is not to denigrate a vision of architecture which is certainly inspiring at some levels, but simply to put the work in perspective.Many British architects have been driven to despair by the standardisation which can be effected during the construction process in the Netherlands. It is worth remembering, in the light of Maas' criticism of 'British and Swiss minimalists' for pursuing 'a poetic escape from the problems of complexity', that there are many architects working in Britain and elsewhere who are producing more subtle, and perhaps more serious, radical work that never gets an airing - let alone built.

SuperDutch, a debate with Bart Lootsma, Winy Maas, and Lars Spuybroek, was held at the RIBA Architecture Gallery

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