Sarah van Sonsbeeck looks back on the Winter School 2018

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In order to examine the rising role of silence within the architectural practice, the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture joined forces with the artist Sarah van Sonsbeeck as part of the Artist in Residence (AIR) programme. Sarah studied architecture at TU Delft (MA) and subsequently studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Rijksacademie van beeldende kunsten (National Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam.

The many facets of silence are a source of inspiration to her and a recurrent theme in her work.The Academy of Architecture asked Sarah to inspire students with her artistic research into silence and to curate the Winter School 2018. During this two-week long research and design programme last January, the three disciplines of Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape Architecture worked together, represented by first, second and third-year students. The assignment that Sarah formulated for the students: design a silence for the Kop van Java area in Amsterdam. She will now look back on the Winter School 2018. 

 - What did you think when you were asked to be the AIR of the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture for a year?

How nice, I thought. I was surprised, however, that I was asked to do this out of the blue, but it was subsequently explained to me that the intention was to give students a fresh perspective on the theme of ‘silence’ during the Winter School. That immediately seemed like something really enjoyable to do. I have already been researching the theme almost 10 years as an artist.

- Can you briefly say how you provided a framework for the Winter School 2018?

Over the course of two weeks, we tried to shed light on totally different aspects of silence, and the effects thereof on the living environment, together with the team (Madeleine Maaskant, Maike van Stiphout and Marjoleine Gadella). From a 0-100 decibel concert in the Bimhuis, and a lecture on the knowledge exchange problem ‘The Silent University’ developed for Tate Modern by Ahmet Ögüt, to a lecture in the Academic Medical Center (AMC) on misophonia (extreme sensitivity to particular sounds) by the psychiatrist Pelle de Koning. Following a week full of lectures and experiences, the students were given the assignment: design a silence for the Kop van Java in Amsterdam. That is very topical, because the municipality is currently busy forming ideas about that location, precisely in order not to build there, but to design a high-quality silence. They envisage that being in a high-quality urban park. I wanted to reflect on what that could be, together with the students, on a very broad and radical conceptual level.

- What were you able to impart to the students during the Winter School 2018?You should probably ask them that yourself actually?

During the prize-giving ceremony, I did quote from one of my favourite childhood films: 'There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher'. In a certain sense, therefore, their success is also my success, but their struggles are also mine. Silence seems so simple, but it has a great many forms and guises. A forest can be silent, but that also applies to censorship. I think that I was able to make the students aware of the influence of sound on architecture.

- What did you think about the students’ designs for the Kop van Java? Are there ideas among them that could actually be realised in your opinion?

First of all, I found it impressive that many of the students work almost full-time and are still prepared then to work every evening and the whole weekend on the Winter School. I could still sleep in, but the students couldn’t! However, I think that intensity has many benefits. You also learn how to collaborate over the space of two weeks. It is especially instructive coming up with a joint plan in a group. I found the plans exciting, sometimes even truly surprising. I think that the totality gives a good indication of the ways of thinking that could be interesting for the Kop van Java. This included themes like interactivity, thinking outside the box on the scale of the city, creating an experience, and thinking about how you can involve Amsterdam inhabitants and nature in the development of a plan.

- What did you learn from the Winter School 2018 yourself?

However nice it may be to be allowed to involve others in your research, I think it would be great if even more academies would make it possible to have an interplay of different disciplines within the format of a Winter School. It is a beautiful initiative that deserves even greater visibility. And I rediscovered my love of architecture. It is so great to see how students approach the profession.

- What else are you going to do during your time as Artist in Residence? How do you envisage the follow-up for yourself and the students?

I am currently sounding the students out about what they feel a need for and will think about how this can be developed further together with Maike and Madeleine. I secretly found it really fun to come up with the interdisciplinary lectures, so who knows, you may be getting one or two more. However, I also want to make the results and the process of the Winter School more visible. We are going to make a book and a vlog, and I am going to present the results soon to the people at the municipality who are actually working on the Kop van Java. It would be great if the students’ ideas were included in the municipality's plans on a conceptual level.

- What is the most important thing that you want to impart to your students during your AIR?

Think about the neighbours too. I mean that students should realise how sound can relate to architecture. That they realise that boundaries are fluid. Sound does not stop with a wall, but also takes up space of the neighbours. A design can be so much stronger if you are aware of this. It would be great if a student would now graduate with a design for a residential building where people with misophonia could live together happily with their partner and family.