Tigerman: So I was reading that when you became the dean at the Berlage Institute, you brought together students and faculty doing rotations around research. Because I want to ask, if you have a vision or what your plan is here?
Arets: Maybe we should talk about my history first. When I was a student, self-education was very important to me. I wanted to discover what I was able to do and what I wasn’t able to do. I was with a small bunch of people at the University of Eindhoven. I did a book on [Dutch architect Frits] Peutz, which no one was interested in at the time. Then I went to Russia, went to Italy—Como and Milan.
Then, suddenly, Alvin asked me to go to the AA. And for me it was a kind of twist. At that time I wanted to go to Milan and stay in Italy for awhile. And suddenly I went to London. And then [Bernard] Tschumi became dean of Columbia. I also happened to know Tony Vidler, and they more or less asked me to go to New York. So either Princeton or Columbia. And then I went to Columbia for a couple of years.
Tigerman: When Tschumi was dean.
Arets: Yeah, when Bernard Tschumi was dean. And Tony Vidler was at that time at Princeton. John Hejduk was at Cooper [Union]. I was teaching also one year at Cooper. And then my first buildings started to happen. So I did my work in Holland, flying back and forth.
And then I was asked to do the Berlage Institute. The idea to start a school like this emerged when Herman Hertzberger in Delft was doing his kind of classes. The Berlage was a school that was doing master classes and that was more or less it. And when I came, the school had hardly any money. And I thought, what I have to do, I want to make it into a laboratory. I want to do research, whatever that may be. I saw that it was good to have a long master class, to have long research sessions where students in groups—in two groups of 18—should do research on a team. And we asked at least two or three professors a year to come and do research with them.
After the first year of research, there was this second year where a student could do with one professor a kind of thesis, maybe something which you could call the first year of a Ph.D. And then I asked the government, could we start a Ph.D. program? Ph.D. programs are normally at universities, but they allowed me to do the Ph.D. So the students could do a first year, and then the second year a kind of independent research that they set up for a whole year with someone. And then they could do a Ph.D.
I think as a young architect, it’s important that you are able to make a statement, to write a book, to really concentrate on your own work. If you do this in a school where you have people like Stanley Tigerman, or Daniel Libeskind, or Rem, or Zaha, or whoever, then there’s debate in the school.
I didn’t tell the students exactly what they should do, although each year I defined a topic. One topic was, for example, Double Dutch: What would happen when Holland doubles in population? So every year I put one topic in front of them.
Another thing, which was interesting, was that I was going back and forth between Europe and America. I could learn from the debate happening in New York and the West Coast, in Europe, and also Japan. When I was a young student I was not only interested in Japan, but I visited Japan.
Tigerman: You’re doing a house there now?
Arets: Yes, it’s ready now, yes. So that was also interesting when I was at the Berlage, because I could bring people from Japan and the States to Holland, to meet Dutch architects. And the students came from all over the place. So it was a small school with multicultural debate. And the diversity of people I brought in—that’s something I learned from Alvin—made, I think, the school rich.
Tigerman: Here it’s a different problem, because here it’s a huge school.
Arets: Very huge.
Tigerman: And some would argue that it’s too big. You know we’ve gone through, that we’re just coming out of this long recession, both as a country and globally. And Crown Hall, the architecture school at IIT, has been the major—I’ll put quotes around it—profit center of the institution of IIT. But in the process it became huge. So how would you approach the same thing in a place like this?
Arets: I think we have to understand that this place is not one school, it’s not one thing. We have the B.Arch. structure, the normal five-year program. Then you have the master of architecture, then you have the master of landscape. Maybe you could argue for also having a master of urban design.
The B.Arch. and the M.Arch. programs here, and the MLA and MUD, you could say, are already different things. Then what is not yet fully developed here is the master of science. So I think the master of science could be maybe a small Berlage. It could be a place where the school could bring people in, and we could maybe have 40 or 60 students, who after their fifth year, their B.Arch., study one year—two, three semesters—in a master of science program.
Then you have the Ph.D., which is, I think, also a big challenge. I think the Ph.D. could be—it’s traditionally, of course, been connected here to engineering, to structural engineering.
Tigerman: But it could be something else.
Arets: It could be, besides being this, it could be something else.
Tigerman: Right, and should be, I would submit.
Arets: I think just as when Alvin went to the AA and when I went to the Berlage, this for me is a new chapter in my life. So what I’m doing now is I’m trying to talk to everyone. I’m talking to all the faculty. I’m trying to understand the structure of the school. This semester the school is running the way it runs.
I think, though, we have to start changing the curriculum. We have to start changing the way the school is organized. I think we have to start looking to compose and develop a new school. Maybe in one or two years we’ll know exactly where it’s heading.
But it’ll be a school which is dealing with issues of the metropolitan area, that will deal with issues related to Chicago and to the bigger metropolis. I think we can learn from things happening in China. In China, what happened over the last 15 years is extremely interesting. Maybe it was growing too quickly. Maybe they made decisions too fast, maybe not. I think we should challenge that. Spring semester I would like to have debates here with a lot of people. We will have master classes and seminars. It should not be one person who says what to do.
But we should understand there’s a kind of community in Chicago. There’s an American architectural community, which is extremely rich. But also people from Europe and China.This place could be a melting pot of a new architectural, let’s say, climate.