Postage Stamp Architecture
I know I have been on a Dutch rag as of late, but where
else can you buy postage stamps that honor not just architects, but architecture, and not just timeworn monuments, but experimental work that has
not even been built? As a kicker, the stamps are designed so that, if you hold them up to a Web cam, they turn into 3D models floating in front of your screen. The project is a collaboration between the Dutch postal company TNT Post, and the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI), which I used to
The postage-stamp-size exhibit consists of five
buildings. As a bonus, if you hold up a whole sheet to the camera, you see an image of the NAI itself. Moreover, the stamps are paired with an
Augmented Reality App called UAR (Urban Augmented Reality) that lets you place
this and other unbuilt structures in meatspace by holding your iPhone up to the
All of this is a way for the NAI to manifest itself while it
is closed for extensive renovations. That project will in turn make the institute more focused on debate and
discussion than on exhibition. The
whole operation raises the question of how architecture can best appear,
especially when it is of the experimental (unbuilt) kind. I have long argued that models,
drawings, and photographs of built structures are a very poor substitute for
the actual building, which only makes sense when you experience it in all its
dimensions and parts. The problem
with such buildings, however, is that it is often difficult to find the
architecture embedded within them.
An exhibition of experimental architecture can serve to show an
architecture that is still free and full of possibilities. It exhibits all the qualities of
architecture without being constrained by its construction.
Such a method also limits what the architecture can do to
the realm of cultural discussion and display: It shows architecture as
speculation, criticism, and a building block for a new reality, not as a
confirmation of the world as we know it.
MVRDV-designed library in Spijkenisse. Courtesy: MVRDV.
My one quibble with this sheet of wonders is that the NAI
chose experimental work that proposes monumental, autonomous structures: a
skyscraper proposed by SEARCH, a parking tower by Marco Vermeulen, a library by
MVRDV, a wind tower by ZUS, and a Knowledge Cluster by Neutelings Riedijk. Only the last building reveals any of
its interior intricacies–a problem especially with the parking tower, which
depends on complex technology, and the library, whose payoff consists of an
interior mountain of books.
Tram tunnel by OMA. Photo: Hans Werlemann, courtesy Stroom Den Haag.
I would have loved to have seen structures that really fly
of the sheet or the screen, like some of MVRDV’s theoretical projects, or whose
minimalist forms, such as those Wiel Arets proposes, seem to dissect space as
we know it to be. Structures that
are extend off the plot into infrastructure, such as OMA’s tram tunnel in The
Hague or the train stations I discussed earlier this week would have shown the
way beyond monuments.
These little marvels are fun and easy to comprehend. They are fragments of possible
architecture that float in the air in your living room or your office,
disseminated across the country and affordable enough for all. If we are looking for models and
inspiration as we seek to rebuild America, this might make a postage stamp size