Statement by Dirk van den Heuvel, expressed at the Thursday Night Archive Explorations: Through Queer Eyes on 15 September 2016. Architect/researcher Dirk van den Heuvel is Head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre and teaches at the Faculty of Architecture at TU Delft. From a personal and political view, he is interested in the possible forms of an inclusive, open society which offers space for diversity.
This afternoon we held our first ‘queer event’ focusing on issues surrounding architecture and architectural design, with contributions by Jasmine Rault, Henry Urbach, Wolfgang Voigt, Riette van der Werff and Josee Rothuizen. Rather than simply reporting on it, Flora asked me to write a brief personal statement outlining why the event is important.
The first reason is visibility. I vividly remember that when I started at architecture school it became clear almost instantly that architects only deal with universalisms and abstractions. First and foremost, there’s the very persona of ‘the architect’. The history of architecture at our school was one of (supposedly) disembodied people. Gay architects, queer architects, other sorts of architects just weren’t there. Perhaps you could encounter them in the Italian Renaissance or German baroque, but that was about it. For the rest it was innuendo and oh là là.
In Dutch architectural history it’s even worse. When you go through the books, the journals, there is not a hint of a gay touch. Not one little scandal or court case. Only a dark gaping hole. As a gay architect, you just don’t exist in this enlightened world of universalisms, where building is for the good of an abstracted body called ‘the people’.
The second reason for the event’s importance is immediately related to visibility and concerns diversity and multiplicity. Architecture is a diverse practice produced by multiple actors, perpetually reversing any institutional discipline and all sorts of conventions.
It seems to be an open door but looking at the architectural discipline, the total body of its institutions today, diversity is just not there. In real life, outside the discipline, there are queer spaces everywhere, once you adjust the way you look at things – and not just in the sense of gay-styled spaces. Fom the most refined and sophisticated to those in really bad campy taste, the range is very broad. Everywhere people bypass and subvert the intentions of policymakers, planners and architects. Almost as an everyday tactic as described by Michel de Certeau or the Situationists.
The third and final reason why I think that ‘queering architecture’ is so important is that we badly need a radically different way of looking at architecture and architecture education, research, production and so on. Not from an institutionalised, discipline-focused centre in which the architect comfortably resides as an ‘author’, but from a radicalised user’s perspective. How architecture is lived in, appropriated, performed and misformed, so to speak. Meaning is not produced by the architect, but by the ones who live, inhabit and consume the actual spaces. Why did we forget those lessons from the 1960s and 70s?
Plenty of people, including straight ones, have already discussed this, including Venturi in his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Tschumi in his project Advertisements for Architecture.
In my view, queering architecture implies a displacement of ‘the architect’ from the centre of architecture. Some architects favour Hans Hollein’s slogan ‘everything is architecture’ – a nice excuse to expand their practice beyond disciplinary boundaries, while reconceptualising architecture itself. But this is only a half-hearted conclusion. Joseph Beuys – a friend of Hollein – was much more radical when he stated that ‘everyone is an artist’.
Can architecture survive such a radical paradigm shift?
From a radical user’s perspective, which is also a queer perspective, everyone becomes an architect.
One way or another.