13.30 The Role of the Architect as a Facilitator of the “Commons”: Transformation of the NDSM Shipwharf, Amsterdam
This paper will discuss the collaborative process of the redevelopment of the Dutch state heritage shipwharf NDSM in Amsterdam into a cultural incubator: a creative hub with artist studios, theater spaces, a skatepark and other (sub)cultural facilities. This process of redevelopment, which started in the late 1990s, differed in multiple ways from conventional heritage redevelopment practices. The NDSM wharf has become an emblematic case of transformation processes initiated by the users; a process that paired user’s initiatives with the hierarchical structure of the governance and that tried to find a shared symbiotic route. The project can be seen as a “commons,” characterized by movements of multitude in the production of common spatialities.
The notion of the commons transcends the dialectic of public/private space, and also goes beyond and unfolds independently from the conventional relationship architect-client/governance. If architecture is considered a reflection of political philosophy, the contemporary shift toward new ways of producing the commons is referred to by many authors as a reflection of the concept of multitudo of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza’s political concept of multitude has been linked to spatial and architectural theories, when speaking about a distributed role of actors in processes of the co-production of space, as a way of representing direct participatory democracy.
In the case of the transformation of the NDSM shipwharf, the notion of the “commons” is at stake on two levels. First, the new use of the site brings different groups of citizens together and functions as a social catalyst for the city. Second, the transformation has been a collaborative process, in which many different parties (urban squatters, skaters, cultural producers, architects, and city officials) participated.
Taking the redevelopment of the NDSM wharf as a starting point, this paper will discuss the changing role of the architect, positioned outside the conventional approach, coping with the dynamics of an uncertain reality. The aim is to understand how the political theory of the production of multitude meets the architectural discipline in practice. What was the role of the different actors in the process? How were the architects positioned? And what was the contribution of architects? Through this case study we want to understand the role of the architect in such collaborative processes.
In taking into account this notion of the “commons,” the architect is challenged to find new ways of operating: not as a single author, responding to a clear client, but as a crucial actor and mediator in a complex collaborative process of development: a process, which is not only spatial and material, but social as well. This change in attitude clearly has consequences for the methods and tools of architecture. The architect needs additional skills, appropriate for the multiple processes of production of space. The architectural drawing, for instance—as one of the basic tools of architectural practice—changes when confronted with the question of the commons. The cold technical drawings of the modernist architect are substituted by drawings that include the dynamics of life, becoming narrative drawings, where urbanity is exposed and behaviourology opens toward the architectural discussion (atelier Bow-Wow).
Vis-a-vis such new collaborative processes, the discipline of architecture is thus forced to reconsider its theories, methods, and tools, reflecting an incorporation of new concepts and “ways of doing” that deal with the notion of the commons. The discussion of the NDSM case will show professional flexibility and the ability to find new ways of contribution and expertise as an integral part of the process.