Berend Strik, The Concise Townscape in Rehab, 2010; stitched C-print; 31 ½ x 47 ¼ inches; courtesy the artist

Berend Strik: Against Standardization and Sanitization


Renée Borgonjen and Berend Strik


An object can become its own surroundings

Working with One Architecture seems to me to be a “thixotropic experience.” We both have different ways of developing a concept and working on an idea. But when these forces come together it becomes fluid, the mixing becomes the strength of a wonderful collaboration.

According to Jacques Rancière, the specific powers of an artist may enable him to interlace ordinary experiences with insights and emotions, thus creating a new “sensory fabric” which plays an important role in his communication with the viewer.1 Dutch artist Berend Strik explores this notion by literally weaving his enlarged photographs with a sensory fabric of this kind, which places a layer of new information over the existing images. In his processing of the image, certain spots are intensified and “charged.” The “sensory fibers” form points of contact and receptors.2

The suggestion of a third dimension becomes reality in the architectural designs of Berend Strik and Matthijs Bouw of the Netherlands-based One Architecture. The constructive qualities of architecture and the exploratory nature of the visual arts are combined in this partnership, which focuses on diverse realms of architecture; in addition to designs with a relatively classical orientation, they also study aspects with a more sensory content.

Sensorial architecture

With One Architecture we designed a Beerhouse for Salzburg in an “Improved Regional Style,” with a prominent roof under which beer and urine flow down a large glass façade. In a cartoonish drawing the Beerhouse is presented as an ecological version of Duchamp’s The Large Glass: a man pisses into a rubber hose that leads to his mouth. Likewise, all the water in the Beerhouse should be re-used to produce new beer; the urine will be filtered and recycled. The vicious circle becomes an ecological cycle in the Beerhouse. It is an idea to influence the environment of people.

In 2000 Strik and Bouw designed the House of Hearts for Carla and Claudia Huntey, twins who suffer from Tourette syndrome. The house is heart-shaped, with two “rooms,” one for Claudia and one for Carla, and an intervening space of soft materials and fabrics intended for their mother. The architecture of the House of Hearts connects and divides the twins at the same time, allowing flexibility in fulfilling their specific needs.3

The Beer Pavilion designed by Strik and Bouw in 1995 as part of One Architecture’s Masterplan for Salzburg, Austria, belongs to an “architecture of signs” in which, like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Las Vegas, “communication dominates space as an element in the architecture and in the landscape.” 4 The pavilion reveals its essence to the outside world through sensory qualities.5 The flowing of beer, produced on site, and urine, also produced on site following the drinking of beer, is visible behind the glass façade. The building’s very architecture seems to be fluid. The brewing takes place in the basement, where purified water is slowly processed into beer. This is architecture turned inside out, to reveal its innermost depths.

A similar inversion occurs in Strik and Bouw’s pink relief wall designed for the blood bank at the health center St. Jozef Gezondheidscentrum in Deventer, the Netherlands. The wall, built in 2010, features ceramic elements resembling blood cells, which, in the words of critic Edzard Mik, “[leave] no doubt about the function of this building.”6 Strik and Bouw seek to produce architecture with a strong physical presence, with a wealth of action possible in the building’s skin, at the interface of inside and outside.

Self-reflexive architecture

To me architecture is a spatial projection of the desires, requirements and histories of the people who live in it. The house becomes a figurative projection of its user; it becomes self-reflexive.


As part of an artist-in-residency program at the psychiatric institution Willem Arntsz Hoeve in Den Dolder, the Netherlands, in 2002, Strik asked
seven long-term patients to each describe their ideal place or dwelling. Strik then produced a series of sketches for dwellings that took account of the specific essence of each individual, thus expanding the regular “program of requirements.” The dwellings Strik designed provide the patients with a firm foundation, both literal and figurative, offering each a home from which they can build up relationships with each other and with their surroundings.

“There is a terrible shortage of suitable dwellings for chronic patients, but the subject has thus far failed to attract leading designers or committed clients,” states a recent report on the subject.7 Architecture has produced very little in the care sector that appeals to the imagination, but the possibilities can be glimpsed by looking at the houses commissioned or designed by artists and writers in which they dare to take the most specific elements as their points of departure and abandon the conventions of architecture. Take the “Cellules” designed by the French artist Absalon beginning in 1991 until his death two years later. The “Cellules” imagined hyper-individualized dwellings geared emphatically towards the specific resident, Absalon himself, and his passions and/or aberrant behavior. They were reflections of his inner life and his relationship with the outside world. “The project’s necessity springs from the constraints imposed on my everyday life … wherein things are standardized, average … I would like to make these Cells my homes, where I define my sensations, cultivate my behaviors. These homes will be a means of resistance to a society that keeps me from becoming what I must become.”8

The interface as shaping space

Increasingly, I have more interest in architectonical projects. Instead of a (apparently) rectilinear development, there is a combinational progression, an advancing side by side, a mutual permeation of the “autonomous arts” and architectural activities. The stitched photographs remain very important for me. Texture, image, materiality and a virtual quality all play off each other in a concentrated form. The stitching forces the image to a tipping point where image becomes experience.

It is important that dwellings address the complex relationship between public and private. By shaping a dwelling’s façade such that the border between the two becomes a space, the significant transition from public to private, or semi-public, is translated into a physical sensation. For instance, Strik furnished the house he designed for Kie, a long-term inhabitant of
Willem Arntsz Hoeve, with a marble façade fashioned in an openwork sculptural structure suggestive of crochet work. Carving recesses into the material creates depth, perspective and an intervening, mediating space. In Strik’s autonomous artistic work, he weaves colorful fragments of fabric and threads into a photographic image, producing a similarly layered effect.9 By creating three dimensions where previously only two seemed to exist, Strik invites the viewer to linger, as with the marble wall, in a new sense of space.

Berend Strik and Matthijs Bouw of One Architecture, Beerhouse (second model), 1995; mixed media; 6 x 6 x 9 inches; courtesy the artists

A sensory dimension of architecture

I see a different way of creating my own “Gesamtkunstwerk.” Working on my Beerhouse, I always imagined it as complete a lifestyle program as possible: Not only the building but also beer glasses, coasters, outfits for the bartenders, and music—anything that could be designed. Maybe architecture is more capable of designing a different or new world than visual art? Sometimes there is a strong desire to retreat into the imaginary world of the object.

In Sense of the City, architect and writer Mirko Zardini advocates a new approach to architecture based on the perceptual capacities of human beings. He believes that these qualities should be attuned to our habitat.10 Zardini believes that we should look beyond the sense of sight, that we have marginalized the perception of sound and smell for too long in public space. Like other animals, humans need a “territory” through which we can navigate with all our senses: not just sight but hearing, touch, smell and taste as well. In his argument, Zardini cites English architect Cedric Price, who asserts that architecture should enable people to achieve mental, physical and sensory well-being.11

More than a second skin

Why Architecture? Architecture is all around us. It delimits our boundaries on all sides. Sometimes I break them open. Architecture is about the potential of spaces that you could enter.

By following the sensory road advocated by Zardini, one can create an architecture that provides a foundation that strengthens the identity of the person who lives in the building or the activity that takes place there—as well as producing a physical environment that facilitates communication. When this principle is applied, the borderline territory of the Willem Arntsz Hoeve becomes a conglomerate of highly differentiated “self-images,” which enrich the experience of the place as a whole. Each of these dwellings contributes to the character and atmosphere of the individual “biotopes,” and ultimately adds to the sense of identity of each of the institution’s long-term residents. It gives each patient a safe and, above all, appropriate place for his body and soul—a second skin that helps him to engage with his surroundings.

Strik’s strategy goes beyond cosmetic interventions and plastic surgery; he sets out to completely replace the innermost organs of architecture.12 The dwellings for psychiatric patients and the Beer Pavilion are literally filled with their own “content,” opening up no less than entire new worlds in which the essence of the design makes itself felt on every possible level.

Sanitization

The design of the Beerhouse is based on the idea that by drinking a lot of beer we also need to do a lot of pissing. Fill the object with its own image! The content makes the design. 

“To keep fear—all the various forms of fear that have possessed us—at bay, we have resorted to remedies such as the illumination of public space, its enclosure and segregation and video surveillance,” writes Zardini.13 The greatest danger of fear, itself, is that it may lead us to avoid anything that makes us feel uneasy. Instead of fear-inspired security, one should promote safety, heeding the words of Jane Jacobs, through interaction, diversity and vitality.14 Zardini prescribes a revolution “from the Hygienic City to Smellscapes and Soundscapes” to counter “the continuous erosion of the perceptual sphere, by sanitization on the one hand and standardization on the other.” 15 Strik and Bouw’s Beer (and urine) Pavilion offers a thrilling prototype of such an architecture.

Strik’s modus operandi—designing on the basis of the specificity of the inhabitants and the essence of the content—takes the inside and puts it on the outside. His approach makes it possible to interpret and experience architecture by reading the content of a structure from its external form, which enriches the public space. Strik’s principles are applicable to very different types of architecture. Take Strik’s design for a museum, for instance, from 2004–05.16 The autonomous works on the inside walls of the pavilion spread and expand in terms of scale and position. Like in all of Strik’s works, the objects become their own surroundings.

1. Jacques Rancière, “Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community,” in The Emancipated Spectator (London: Verso, 2009), 55–56.

2. The term “sensory fabric” is used outside the art world in “sensory fabric technology,” referring to textiles with highly refined technical properties, which react to certain environmental conditions. For instance, the color of a fabric may change in response to temperature fluctuations.

3. See also www.onearchitecture.nl/projects/tourette/.

4. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, revised edition 1977, first edition 1972), 8.

5. The pavilion refers to a traditional Austrian house without looking like one; see also www.onearchitecture.nl/projects/bierpaviljoen/.

6. Edzard Mik, “Snijden in een ziekenhuis,” NRC Handelsblad (July 17, 2009): C08.

7. Nikolaas Vande Keere and Regis Verplaetse, in “De woning en het gesticht,” SKOR, De Collectie (2010), 86.

8. Absalon, “Project,” in Cellules (exh. cat. Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1993), n.p.

9. See www.berendstrik.nl/.

10. Mirko Zardini (ed.), Sense of the City: an Alternate Approach to Urbanism (Montréal: CCA; Baden: Lars Müller, 2005), 17–25.

11. Ibid., 19.

12. Paraphrased from Zardini, who noted the advent of a new strategy for the renewal of a city from within (Domus, September 2004, 26).

13. Mirko Zardini (ed.), Sense of the City, 20.

14. See Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961.

15. Zardini, 21.

16. The design was introduced at the conference “Museum in Motion” held by a number of institutions in the Netherlands: Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht; Museum het Domein, Sittard and the Department of Architecture & Urban Planning, Ghent University, November 12–13, 2004. One of the questions debated was: “How are we to define the future role of the museum of contemporary art, as a pre-eminently public institution?”

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