Beyond Buildings


Postage Stamp Architecture

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Postage stamps.


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 direct.


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 site.


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 contribution.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 6:01 AM Friday, May 13, 2011

    TNT Post asked Dutch advertising agency Gummo to design a special series of stamps on the general theme 'architecture;. Gummo came up with the concept of developing the world's first Augmented Reality stamp, and than asked NaI to select the projects for the stamps.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.