‘For the benefit of progress’. Interview with Artist in Residence Rianne Makkink

Foto: Jordi Huisman

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Architect and designer Rianne Makkink (1964) has been appointed Artist in Residence at the Academy of Architecture. Together with her partner Jurgen Bey she heads Studio Makkink & Bey, an office that designs public spaces, architecture, interiors, exhibitions and products. The tension between the private and public domains is an important theme in the work of the Rotterdam office.

Architect and designer Rianne Makkink (1964) has been appointed Artist in Residence at the Academy of Architecture. Together with her partner Jurgen Bey she heads Studio Makkink & Bey, an office that designs public spaces, architecture, interiors, exhibitions and products. The tension between the private and public domains is an important theme in the work of the Rotterdam office.

‘For the benefit of progress.’ Pioneering in the Noordoostpolder.

Interview met Rianne Makkink

'"What are you exactly?" Maarten Kloos recently asked me after a lecture. Now I’m asked the same question. I’m essentially an architect, and I graduated in Delft. I’m certainly not a hard-core designer, though that’s still the best word to describe me: ‘designer’. After 10 years I’m back in the world of architecture again. Now I can turn up there again and approach it from another perspective, more from the small scale. That’s more in tune with my world of design, although I do come from the world of architecture, which always deals with large scales. When the Roombeek district in Enschede was hit by the explosion in an illegal fireworks depot, where we’d been working for seven years, our whole project literally exploded. That’s when I gradually started to realise that architecture and urbanism are closely connected with politics. We were removed from the design scene as quickly as possible, and I never want that to happen to me again.

'Ten years ago I stopped doing urbanism and architecture. I literally got on a horse and cart and travelled around the Netherlands for the SLOOM organisation that I set up with Herman Verkerk. I wanted to reflect on slow growth models within the design world. I wanted to learn to see everything differently, not just from above when you make plans or master plans. Sometimes I met people who travelled part of the way with me. I had whole conversations on the wagon that really changed my view of the country. Just before that, I went to India on a tour with the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. There I developed a totally different perspective, by looking at how people lived and worked there. That’s also where I met my partner Jurgen Bey.

'Now I’ve entered into another period of teaching. Previously I had tutored architecture students at the Sint-Lucas Institute in Ghent and at Ghent University, but I stopped in 2005. I felt that as a designer I was positioned much more on the design side of things, and I noticed that I’d lost touch with the challenges and the issues at stake in architecture. Since 2011 I’ve been teaching at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, in the masters course in Social Design. And for the past year I’ve been teaching again at the architecture department of Ghent University. The good thing about architecture courses in Belgium is that students enjoy an opportunity to work intensively and with concentration on acquiring a deeper understanding, on study, or on a joint project. They are able to explore the scope of their discipline and are liberated from too much reality. Everything happens at the same time at the Academy. What the students do here is very brave, since the course structure is extremely heavy. One advantage is that the Academy students are a little older and are therefore well educated.

'In 2005 Jurgen and I bought an old farmhouse near Kraggenburg in the Noordoostpolder and we moved our studio there. Up until then I spent all my money in the air — from piper warrior to helicopter, skydiving and then paragliding, the cheapest aerial sport of all. Aviation pioneer Howard Hughes is one of my heroes. And Chuck Yaeger, the first person to break the sound barrier. I’ve always been fascinated by the pioneering mentality, being the first at everything, especially making a discovery. Buying a house was not part of our plan. Until Jurgen and I met each other we lived in student flats in Rotterdam. We never had money for other things, so buying a house was not an option. Now we own a farmhouse and a hectare of land. As modern hippies we’re sort of strangers in the Noordoostpolder. Empty for years, our farmhouse had been neglected and had acquired a bad reputation. Almost immediately after we moved there we invited the farmers to come and take a look. Together with Atelier NL we also held a party. By organising a project with Designers in Residence we, or rather the designers, generated a lot of goodwill in the polder. The polder is the subject for the designers, and Atelier NL in particular has given our farm a better name through the intensive contacts with farmers. We get along very well with each other now.

'The word ‘noord’ (north) is disastrous for the Noordoostpolder. People associate it with something conservative and very far away, also because access to the area is poor. It takes me almost two hours to reach it by car, and it takes even much longer by train. Even so, the polder has become far more accessible in recent years. You see that more and more farmers are moving into alternative production as a reaction to the big scale increase in agriculture, and they invite people to come and take a look. New pioneers have emerged in the polder. Bob Crébas, the founder of Marktplaats (a classified advertising site in the Netherlands), which is located in Emmeloord, has started a company that grows nettles to make clothes. Now there are also winegrowers, beer brewers and sausage makers. And an awful lot of biological food is produced in Flevopolder, more than anywhere else in the Netherlands. It’s simply dropped at my front door now after I’ve ordered in on Internet.

World heritage
'The wonderful thing about the polder is that it’s a totally developed landscape. Absolutely everything is designed, from the first to the last tree. I think it’s a real work of art. What’s more, the weather is always good in the polder, always those wonderful skies and pitch-black nights. What a pity we have so few of these large-scale projects in our country. It’s wonderful to be able to work on them.

'The municipality in the Noordoostpolder recently turned down the nomination for the World Heritage List. Partly as a result, it was decided that a heritage policy paper had to be drawn up concerning the modernisation of conservation in the field of planning. I became involved in the project indirectly. The Noordoostpolder is an area of unique cultural-historical importance and we must look after it carefully. Greenhouse farming is advancing rapidly, for example, and if we don’t stem the growth we won’t have any more of those beautifully dark nights. Even so, we shouldn’t close off the area from all outside influences.

Looking ahead
'One of the programme elements during my tenure as Artist in Residence is an interdisciplinary workshop for students from the Academy. We’re going to design new production landscapes for the Flevopolder based on various scenarios. We’ll do that at scale one-to-one, so we’ll actually be working with and for the land. Students will work on specific assignments for utility companies, such as a water-purification basin with ‘cleaner fish’ and bacteria as an alternative to the average pond. Or a heat-absorbent cycle lane that generates energy. The utility companies all serve the public interest, and it is their responsibility to look after the landscape of the Noordoostpolder, united for the benefit of progress. I want to work with the students, at a small scale in particular, on pioneering projects that can be of genuine value to the polder. And I want them to work with their hands as much as possible. That engagement and involvement with the soil is very important to me. That’s how I like to look at my own work.

'While they’re with us, the students are free to rummage around in their own world, in their own heads, just as I like to do on the farm. I never manage that in the city, because there are too many distractions and so many other things on my mind.

'I’m inviting an all-female line-up of pioneers for the Capita Selecta series of public lectures that I’m organising in September. It’s a good thing that women are moving more into the limelight. More than half of my students are female, but you don’t come across them too much in the ‘professional’ world later. Jurgen pushes me forward again and again when something has to happen; he encourages that strongly. I don’t yet know precisely what the lectures will be about. The women will come more from the design world because that’s where I operate now and have contacts, but just as in my introductory lecture the pioneering mentality will be the focus.’

Nik Berkouwer

Register for the summer workshop
To register for the ‘Fieldwork’ summer workshop from 22 to 30 August in the Noordoostpolder supervised by Rianne Makkink and various other inspirational guest tutors, contact management assistant Marjoleine Gadella at marjoleine.gadella@ahk.nl.

The results of the summer workshop will form part of the final event of ‘Mapping Flevoland’ during the weekend of 15 and 16 September 2012. Starting on 30 June, Kraggenburg is hosting an exhibition by designers and artists who worked on previous editions of ‘Fieldwork’. The Academy will report regularly on the activities of Rianne Makkink on this website.

AIR is a programme of the Art Practice and Development research group in collaboration with the institutes of the Amsterdam School of the Arts / www.air.ahk.nl. Rianne Makkink is following in the footsteps of Jeanne van Heeswijk, Jeroen Kooijmans, Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte, Erik Kessels, Krisztina de Châtel, Luc Deleu and Paul Shepheard.