NETHERLANDS - Hans van der Heijden heads the Rotterdam practice biq, together with Rick Wessels. Swimming against the stream of the neomodern and supermodern tendencies that have long predominated in the Netherlands, biq has secured a position for itself with an architecture that prioritizes the everyday and the ordinary.
Hans van der Heijden (b. The Hague, 1963) and Rick Wessels (b. Rotterdam, 1959) are the founders of biq. Van der Heijden, who is the practice's design director, graduated from Delft University of Technology in 1988. Before setting up biq in 1994, he worked for the Government Buildings Agency, Mecanoo and Roelf Steenhuis. In 2008 he published Architectuur in de kapotte stad (Architecture in the fractured city). Wessels, too, graduated from TU Delft in 1988. During his studies, he worked for the Bouwfonds (Municipal Building Fund) and the Rotterdam city council. Wessels is biq's managing director.
Before the first question has been asked, Hans van der Heijden has already kicked off, expanding on an earlier conversation: 'I looked something up for you. I once had a long talk with Miroslav Šik, which was tremendously inspiring. He wrote something in one of his books that expresses precisely what we are about. It says: "The other analogue city was also built in the urban periphery, in the carpet of the industrial suburbs, in the vicinity of the modernist post-war architecture. The dull, unwelcoming city does not exist. Concrete is not inhuman, just one possible manifestation of architecture. I don't use derogatory concepts like kitsch and surrogate because they mock the city of the small suburbs, the allotment gardens and the mobile homes." And then comes the most important bit: "We grew up in these neighbourhoods and streets, informal characteristics have become one with our tears and loves and disappointments. This city has become our city, has in fact always been our city." I also see in this an update of something like traditionalism. It's not a question of style at all, it's simply a matter of showing consideration for what is already there.'
This set the tone for the ensuing conversation, which took place at the moment when biq was working on an invited competition for the Römerberg square in the historical centre of Frankfurt.
Hans van der Heijden: There is a concrete complex next to the Dom and that's going to be demolished. It will be replaced by an historicizing project, based on detailed historical research into all the buildings that once stood there. And in the usual way of things nowadays, all those buildings have to have a different architect. The brief is actually to conjure back a gothic half-timbered house.
Hans Ibelings: And are you going to do that?
HvdH: No, we're adopting various aesthetic qualities of those half-timbered houses, like the material, the proportions, the plastered surfaces and the colours, but not the tectonic; it's no longer in keeping with current construction practices. In Germany, and in the Netherlands, people build with heavy materials nowadays. A building is assembled from components. That's a different reality from those half-timbered houses. If you were to try to do that now, you'd be flying in the face of reality.
HI: So does that mean that despite the historicizing elements, it will be immediately recognizable as something contemporary?
HvdH: I think it'll be more timeless. There's more than one architect for each plot, eight of us are vying for four plots. The architects taking part range from conservative minimalists to neoclassicists like Hans Kollhoff. This competition has been extremely well prepared, with a plot book containing historical pictures of each building, and there was a rigorous briefing as well. The client – the city council – had visited regeneration projects all over the country and everyone, from the CDU to the Greens, agreed that there were no good models to be found.