- Article by Online Editor
- Architect MVRDV
Above: Photo by Persbureau van Eijndhoven
Dutch architecture firm MVRDV has recently completed their Glass Farm project for RemBrand developers in the small town of Schijndel in the Netherlands: a multifunctional building situated in the village square with a gross floor area of 1,600sqm providing retail, restaurants, offices and a health centre. The exterior printed glass collage of typical local farms becomes its defining characteristic but for much more than its striking aesthetic resplendence. The architects state that it “can be seen as a contemporary response to retro-architecture whilst respecting the public’s wish for vernacular authenticity”.
The term ‘authenticity’ is an intriguing choice. It leads to a certain reflection in terms of theory. It positions MVRDV as particularly postmodern in its approach. Given that the project dates back some 23 years when MVRDV director, Winy Maas, urged the mayor to fill in the gap created during Operation Market Garden during the Second World War, is testament to the idea of ‘authentic’. The Glass Farm represents the seventh iteration of a proposal for the site and is a conglomeration of images at 1.6 times the original scale. In aiming for authenticity, MVRDV divides its postmodernist approach by linking an existential obsession with the authentic to an insistence on the absolute flatness of a facade, the rise in significance of a prescribed ‘style’.
Does the Glass Farm point at a disappearance in contemporary architecture of buildings that provide strong ideological positions, or does it promote the idea of style for style’s sake? In effect: is it a polemic or a gimmick?
Through the use of screen-printed glazing collages, there is a certain sensibility at play that celebrates style over authenticity: the gimmick. An enjoyment in a style, which does not provide any investment in its significance. A temporary investment in style. The dream of authenticity is actually unintelligible. The user, in this instance, simply has to go along with it rendering their inability to take it seriously. The imaged building constructs a virtual public space of transparency.
As Boris Groys, a Russian academic at New York University, states, “the universality of media has replaced the universality of the avant-garde, and the universality of modernist reductionism has been replaced by cultural diversity and local traditions as an indication of authenticity… The lack of common tastes means that cultural actions can only be carried out at one’s risk, and this is precisely what happens. The modern artist, architect and theorist is like the Nietzschean tightrope walker: the only measure of success is his ability to dance on the rope in front of an audience for a certain period of time.”
MVRDV represents the authentic through screen-printed images of the past, but instead of being reflective on local tradition and vernaculars, is it more emblematic in underscoring the unfilled needs and dissatisfactions of an existing order in a dialectical way? The building is an interrogation of the present proposing a dim outline of an alternative, rather than operating as a reflection in the truest sense of the term.