Matthew Stadler
Designed and illustrated by Tae Won Yu
nai010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture
7.5 x 4.9 inches, paperback, 256 pages
ISBN: 9789064507496

From the Publisher. In the small Dutch city of Deventer, a pair of projects recently emerged that unite individual art practice and urban planning: the development of a disused mid-twentieth-century hospital complex; and the transformation of a Catholic hospital monastery into the Jozef Health Centre Deventer. Deventer tells the story of these two projects.

In Deventer, the Netherlands, a routine real estate deal and demolition became the site of innovation and new intelligence in urban design. Not all of the endings were happy ones. This is the story of how it happened. As architecture dissolves into the blurry middle ground between individual art practice and urban planning, the profession’s discourse falls apart. We lack a vocabulary for the hugely important middle ground: projects that are neither local nor global, neither temporary nor permanent, neither original (in the protean sense) nor strictly an act of preservation. Outmoded dichotomies - local/global, temporary/permanent, new/somehow-not - obscure the daily challenge of designing and building real architecture. Two linked projects in Deventer help map this middle-ground: the creation and sale of an unusual development plan for a disused mid-20th century hospital complex; and the transformation of a 1956 Catholic hospital monastery into a community health center, Jozef Health Center Deventer. Deventer tells the human story that drove these projects to their checkered ends, and connects them to broader changes in the professions as a first step toward finding a vocabulary for the new scale of change in architecture.

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John Hill

Deventer is a small city in the Netherlands with just under 100,000 residents—the equivalent of a Flint, Michigan, or Kenosha, Wisconsin, in population terms. The city is an unlikely setting for what is described as a novel-like retelling of two projects, one architectural and one urban planning, both on sites of hospitals and both involving Matthijs Bouw and his firm One Architecture. Bouw is also an unlikely choice, but novelist Matthew Stadler’s interests lie in the architect’s unique working process and the resulting interactions between Bouw, the clients, and the residents of Deventer.

Stadler’s narrative treatment of the true events around the two projects takes liberty with time, just one of the ways that the book departs from more traditional architectural history to make the architectural process accessible to a wider audience. As one example, Stadler visits the completed architectural project near the beginning of the book, heading back in time later in the book to discuss how Bouw and company designed their intervention. The future of the urban planning project is less certain, stemming from a number of factors, including the economic problems taking place at the time (post-2008), the desire of the developers to take their winning bid and depart from Bouw’s brilliant yet highly prescriptive plan, and the fact that masterplans typically leave room for change in architecture and other forms (think of Daniel Libeskind’s winning masterplan for the World Trade Center site compared to what is being built today).

While the highly specific projects and scenarios revolving around Matthijs Bouw mean this book cannot serve as a template for narrative treatments of other buildings, it does illustrate that architecture can be made interesting for wider consumption. Films, TV shows, books, and other forms of narration prefer doctors, lawyers, police, and other life-or-death professions, to the chagrin of architects who find what they do just as fascinating. Architectural projects unfold through myriad conflicts and compromises by a large and complex cast of characters; the decisions that occur along the way may not be life or death, but their influence is great and last for years and decades. If there is one thing that can be exported from Stadler’s enjoyable story it is the value in having somebody from outside the architectural profession observe and document the process, so that other books would appeal to more than just architects and—like Deventer—be cognizant of the people who will ultimately occupy an architect’s creation.

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