BEN VAN BERKEL / ARCHITECT / AMSTERDAM


How can politics encourage creativity and innovation?
Through the celebration of international education. The Music Theatre in Graz that was built by UN Studio and opened in 2009 is a good example of a high-profile international school, in this case for top opera singers. Governments are not always keen on being outspoken concerning projects like this because it has political consequences; it needs to be democratic and accepted by the public. What’s more, the quality of an institute could and should be supported and communicated through architecture. I see architecture as an intellectual, supportive catalyst or a source of inspiration for the quality of what already exists.

If I were mayor of Amsterdam for one day, I would put more carpets and trees in the streets and I would clean the canals so that you can swim in them. I would also extend the symbolic aspect of the way in which you can improve the naming and thus the branding of certain areas in the city. An example is the “nine little streets,” beautiful cross streets of the canals with wonderful small shops. I wouldn’t keep it to nine since I have already counted up to 17 nice streets in this area.

What do you like best about Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is a city full of paradoxes. It is like a small provincial town where you have the feeling that you are almost in the countryside and where the streets become very silent after midnight. At the same time the city is very dynamic with an incredible, intense nightlife. Amsterdam has stayed very much alive over the years I have been living there. It is also extremely cosmopolitan and very international. You have the feeling that you are in the centre of the world when you are in Amsterdam. The city is very open to international people. And it also has the best infrastructure: from Schiphol Airport you can fly to anywhere in the world.

What should the world know about your work?
We just want to produce fascinating work for a broad public. For us, it is essential that our buildings have multi-layered levels of understanding and that people who have seen them have the feeling they have to go back in order to fully see and understand the building. An example of a building where we succeeded to achieve this is the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart. For us, it was very important that it wouldn’t become a showroom, but that it really became a museum. That it would be very enjoyable to spend your day there, walk in a time machine, grab a coffee or visit the restaurant; really a full experience. The building generates a quality that attracts a broader scope of people into the building.

We work in a very experimental way. We don’t have one linear design process. I sometimes consult other designers like my good friends Viktor and Rolf. Also, I sometimes approach the building as a product, or as a work of art, or as a movie. I always have different approaches.

My teaching also influences my work a lot. I love teaching. I think it is very inspiring to discuss with the younger generation. I have students from all over the world and it is always exciting to see how talents can develop.

www.unstudio.com