This book is about architecture. To be precise, it is about architectural expression in buildings designed by Neutelings Riedijk Architects.
In the book At Work (2003) our work was unraveled in sixteen different chapters that together form the ingredients of our design approach. This new book Ornament and Identity orders, post factum, the quest for fitting expression and identity as one of the leitmotifs in our oeuvre. Through this book, we explain the themes, fundamentals, and perhaps also the style of our work as we seek to clarify what the expression or identity of a building can mean today.
In 1977 Charles Jencks (1939) pronounced modernism dead; modern architecture lacked the means to express contemporary assignments in fitting fashion. Jencks believed that buildings should once more have meaning and identity, not only by referring to conventional architecture or local traditions, but also by especially speaking a “pluralist architectural language”.
According to the acclaimed Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) we are currently in a state of “liquid identity”. Our identity, more straightforward in the past, has become diluted and fluid. We are obliged to interact with the entire world, from the alienating Internet in our living room to the unintelligible foreigner in the street. We ourselves are both local and global. Bauman believes that the remedy for restoring balance in the world in this condition is to pursue local and global identity simultaneously. We must not only identify with the world on our computer and television screens, but also with the real, tangible world around us, with our theatres, museums, courthouses and city halls the vehicles of our local identity.
Our work constitutes a twenty-first century synthesis of the rich palette of ideas handed down through architectural tradition, and appears, in retrospect, to tie in with Jencks’ call for a pluralist syntax, or with Bauman’s quest for a local identity: architecture finds its form and meaning at the interface of modern technology, building traditions, and material expression.
We make borders, fringes, creases, edges and seams; we ornament the material, we fold the concrete, color the mortar, individuate rhythms of spacers in concrete with shining screw casings – all in order to achieve architectural expression that can transcend the purely practical. By deploying the full gamut of architecture at our disposal, the result can be stirring and sublime. We aim for Maximalism: architecture in which every component of the building has expression, and ultimately, meaning. We challenge the restrictions of habit, fashion, and respectability: the familiar conventions of our profession help us to give our designs an outward form that transcends good taste and aesthetic laziness. The work creates local identity with its nonconformist expression as a revolt against worldwide uniformity.
The twelve chapters in this book: Moiré, Image, Seam, Emblem, Letter, Pattern, Cutout, Ridge, Lozenge, Relief, and Filigree can be interpreted as the architectural representation of the binary terms set out above. Each project description explores, in addition to the typological context and the public space, the expression and materiality of the work in relation to the nature of the ornamentation. We do notclaim the expression we select is universally valid, but we pursue an incongruity, the capriciousness of the correct idea, that transcends itself and the familiar connotations of architecture. In that way, expression can connect the public with the building and the specific spot on earth: ornament forms identity.