Inspiring the new generation of Morganites!
A travelogue by Cristina Murphy, the curator and coordinator of the trip.
In retrospect, all that happened this week is about traveling, taking risks, interacting with people, daring to push a bit more, confronting oneself with differences and believing in the enrichment of sharing and exchanging. It is also about learning to self-organize and, ultimately, trust that this investment will go toward the very personal and professional growth of a new generation of architects. Finally, it is my passionate belief that powerful experiences gained through pro-actively engaging with situations while traveling, will provide the perfect inspiration for the next generation of designers to build a better, more inclusive, empathetic, and harmonious world for its inhabitants.
I am Cristina Murphy, Assistant Professor at Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P). This is the third time that I initiate, curate, and lead 10 days of travel and study in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for students, faculty, and local professionals. During these trips, I gain, I give back, and I learn. I test my knowledge, my body, my mind, my fears, and I use my experiences to improve future trips. In Rotterdam, I live the best life as an architect, an educator, a colleague, a friend, a wife, a mother. I confront and share ideas and concerns at all levels. I travel. Essentially, I travel on many tracks and I listen to my surroundings because, just like my students, I am still searching for the ultimate truth about designing the right world for people.
This report is about Rotterdam, the students, and all those sponsors that made it possible. Here, the intention is to diligently report the experience of the Spring 2023 study abroad experience. Each day, I annotated the events and the lesson to be learned. Each day was cataloged through pictures, sketches, videos, and quotes.
Arrival in Rotterdam
The Morgan students have landed in the Netherlands. It is March 9, 2023 and, after a few years of pandemic-related travel ban, the Trip to Rotterdam has been revamped!
This year the Netherlands is experiencing rather unusually rough March weather. While the average temperature should be around 9°C (48.2°F) with at least six to nine hours of sunshine a day, the average temperature this March is 4°C (39.2°F), with plenty of rain, some icy snow, and freezing northern winds…
Day 1 | UNStudio Visit
March 10, 2023
Despite the cold temperatures and some jet lag, students, staff, and I met at the Rotterdam Central Station (CS) early in the morning. We traveled to Amsterdam and joined the few others who had been based there for the first initial days.
At 11 am, we arrived at UNStudio where we spent more than two hours learning how this multi-disciplinary studio operates, locally and globally. UNStudio is located worldwide! This year, they are launching their first US-based office in collaboration with HKS and Gehl. This partnership (HUG) was selected to lead a major expansion of the public transit system in Austin, Texas. Gabriel Punkenhofer, the business developer at the office, described the importance of people, culture, and business. He highlighted the relevance of popular trends, technology, information, and human comfort.
UNStudio has different research hubs for understanding and studying today’s markets’ needs.
The issue of scale, from Masterplan to object, was explained through the presentation of a variety of projects UNStudio embraces. Projects vary from masterplans in the Middle East to utensils (created in collaboration with Alessi) at the Salone del Mobile in Milan — the UNStudio team covers all phases and scale of design.
After a well-formatted presentation, Daniele de Benedectis (who was recently promoted to Associate in the office), walked us to the model shop. The concept of fabrication is taken seriously at the office: the in-house model-making shop personnel experiments with diverse materials, paying particular attention to principles of sustainability, upcycling, and circular economy.
Research revolves around the idea of export-ability. Questions such as “How can we fabricate models for global branches?” “What are the limitations of virtual modeling?” “What are low-impact means of transportation?” “Is local craftsmanship outsourcing the most sustainable avenue?” are recurrent questions in the office.
How to fabricate in times of global pandemics is also something UNStudio is studying. Examples of their findings have been logged in manuals with instructions are the use of QR codes and foldable/collapsible models to be assembled locally. It is an ongoing research that is essential to pursue in times of climate change and the scarcity of materials.
Finally, both Daniele and Gabriel emphasized how the office focuses on local knowledge and multi-diverse collaboration in order to realize successful projects.
This office is growing and expanding and it welcomes diverse and multidisciplinary personnel. A good time for Morgan grads to apply!
Day 2 | Black Heritage Tour
March 11, 2023
The weather today is sunny with little-to-no wind. This is the perfect day to be cruising the Amsterdamse canals! The Rotterdam crew met up with the Amsterdam-based group at 2:15 pm by the tour boat to embark on the Black Heritage Tour. But what is the Black Heritage Tour?
According to their own website, this tour aims to “inform, inspire and educate, whether you are a descendant, educator, student, local or international traveler, the tour is for everyone who is interested in learning more about these ‘hidden histories‘”. While on the tour, one “will learn about a recently revealed ‘Black community‘ of men, women and children that lived in Amsterdam as early as the 16th Century alongside the history of the wealthiest merchants who were Directors of the WIC (West India Company) or the VOC (United Dutch East India Company), shareholders or owners of plantations in the Dutch colonies.”
This afternoon was devoted to gaining knowledge about the African Diaspora. African Diaspora is the term commonly used to describe the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s. This Diaspora took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
During the Black Heritage Tour, we not only had the opportunity to move within Amsterdam via its canals, but also to survey the city through its racial symbolism. Our tour guide explained how buildings manifested a painful racial history through the symbols depicted on them.
Jennifer Tosch, our guide and captain on board, lead the 1.5 hr long conversation stressing the concept that the tour’s intention was to bring to light personal stories, voices, and the painful social consequences of those large-scale events.
The most remarkable lesson that stayed with me is the importance of looking at and carefully studying logos and insignia on buildings. It was so revealing to be able to connect such a global history of trade and people to the buildings we observed. These ornaments revealed to passers-by of the time, through displayed symbols of pride and wealth, what trade or professions were housed in a particular building.
Black life in Amsterdam is displayed on the gable stones that adorn hundreds of houses in Amsterdam. Jennifer shared her many years of studying records and stories of Black people living in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands. She pointed out that there is much evidence of Black life in the city dating back many hundreds of years and that their presence is everywhere.
At the end of the tour, after opening our eyes to the evidence written on the buildings, we all remained with the big pending question: does the Netherlands exclude and marginalize people of color? Can SA+P students and all our Baltimorean friends draw a comparison between the Netherlands treatment of black people and Baltimore’s systematic racist practices such as lower rates of labor market participation by Black Americans, institutional racism through the exclusion from higher education, racial profiling by police, and the practice of delivering harsher sentences compared to those given to white people for similar crimes? In Baltimore people of color are discriminated against in the housing market and face higher risks of death correlated with lower socioeconomic status.
The answer is complex: the perception is that the Dutch refuse to acknowledge race or racial discrimination using a sort of socially adopted color-blindness. The general perspective is that the Dutch claim that race has no impact on the material conditions of one’s life and that they, as a society, are not involved in acts of inequalities.
This is, to me, still an open question that, perhaps, my students will help answer through their travel testimonials. Yet, one thing is for sure, ignoring racial inequalities or inequities reproduces the very same racism that color-blindness claims does not exist.
Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours: www.blackheritagetours.com
Day 3 | Amsterdam Walking Tour
March 12, 2023
If it seems like all I do these days is talk about the weather it is because I do… Although the rain has stopped and the wind is blowing a bit less, this weather is atypical. It is still rather cloudy and temperatures are still much below average. Speaking of climate change, weather and society resiliency, carbon labs, harvest maps, and slow mobility make a lot of sense. As you will soon read, here in the Netherlands the students are at the center of it all!
Rotterdam 2023 group is complete now! The remaining trip participants have arrived this morning in the Netherlands. We all met in Amsterdam this morning and will begin walking northward towards the IJdock. The plan is to walk a 14km loop around the IJ River.
On the IJdock, we began exploring the Masterplan by Bjarne Mastenbroek van Gameren from the Courthouse building. The Baltimore architects in our group started a critique of the program. They argued that a courthouse could not possibly activate a part of town that has long been forgotten. Yet, on the contrary, I argued that the Courthouse was just one of the many buildings providing a multi-functional program on site.
The area offers diverse activities within a complex development designed by Kaan Architecten. The dock (60x180m — 200x600ft) accommodates offices, hotels, apartments, haven dock, police station and courthouse. Fundamentally, the architects conceived a mass occupying the whole dock, extruded it, and cut through it to gain views toward the IJ. The overall shape resembles sailing boats hence the connection to the river. While the hotel is glassy with 300 rooms and is 15 meters (50 feet) wide, the apartments are open on the waterside and closed on the roadside.
My opinion is that the design team worked cleverly in maximizing occupancy on this thin section of the town, a part of town that needed attention and redevelopment. The Courthouse was a necessary program. It does not draw passers-by on its own, however the rest of the program does. The designers were careful not to isolate but to integrate this necessary function into amenities that compensate for an otherwise isolated and mono- functional building.
Walking north along the IJ is Silodam. The building (1995 to 2002) is located in the western part of the Amsterdam harbor where an extensive urban redevelopment in the ’90s transformed former silos into housing, offices, work spaces, and both commercial and public spaces. Silodam, designed by MVRDV, is a 20 meter (65 feet) deep and ten-story-high urban envelope that used to be one of the biggest flat buildings on this side of the IJ. The building’s program is apartments that differ in size, layout, and price addressing the housing needs of a vast variety of people desiring to live in Amsterdam.
Although old and in need of maintenance, the building still stands strong. Its rough and rudimentary aesthetic perfectly re-conciliates with its waterfront prime location. It looks like a stack of containers but its core has fundamentally changed the way we design communities. In a video about Silodam, architect Nathalie de Vries, a founding partner with MVRDV, says the building “has become a cross-section of Amsterdam society, so you’ll find families, older people, people with many different hobbies, attitudes and lifestyles, and they’re all united in one building.”
Before lunch, we crossed the IJ and arrived at the NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij) terrein, a former ship building and repair company (1946-79) area. Starting in 2013, this area went through an enormous transformation: in the US this development would be called gentrification. A bunch of artists launching the trend of beautification making this area attractive for development. Yet, in the Netherlands, we talk about transformation without displacement. Any new development requires 35-40% of social housing. This helps to retain residents while uplifting parts of the city that would otherwise remain unattractive.
Leaving NDSM, our route took us along some recent developments in the old working, mostly industrial, district of Amsterdam North including Schoonschip, a sustainable houseboat community. Here we met Thijs van Spaandonk, Head of Urban Planning at the Rotterdamse Academie van Bouwkunst and Terra Dakota, community organizer in Amsterdam Noord. This floating neighborhood of 46 households, is ecologically and socially sustainable. For over ten years, the residents have worked really hard to design, develop, and realize Schoonschip. The houses are very well insulated. They are heated with heat pumps; tap water is heated by solar water heaters and heat pumps; they generate their own electricity with photovoltaic solar panels; all the houses are connected to a smart grid; there are separate streams for the disposal of grey water and black water; all houses have a green roof that covers up at least one third of the roof surface; residents share electrical cars, cargo bikes and e-bikes; sustainable materials and installations were integrated as much as possible into the design and construction. People collaborate to live more sustainably. The community is set up to be an open source platform: by sharing their living experience, residents intend to inspire other communities to apply the same concept and innovate to inspire ever greater future realizations.
We finally arrived to the EYE Filmmuseum building on the IJ. From there we were a step away from the ferry to the Central Station. The day in Amsterdam was coming to an end. The EYE provides a breathtaking view back into the city. From the EYE, the group could look back at the start of our tour and, hopefully, make sense of the loop we had just completed.
Today concludes our Amsterdam’s adventure. From tomorrow on, we will be Rotterdam-focused and the students will have the chance to add to their life experience. They will take a deep dive immersion into the Rotterdamse way — embracing the city’s motto “Rotterdam Makes it Happen!”
Day 4 | Delft – Rotterdam
March 13, 2023
We arrived to the TU Delft campus early this morning. To me, that was a walk down memory lane. I studied at the campus many years ago and so many memories jumped on me on this hazy morning… I could still see a young architecture student rushing to class, hoping to come up with a solid concept for design studio, aspiring for an internship with OMA, desiring to become an architect… one day. That day is today: I am walking the campus avenue with 12 ambitious students who are, just like me so many years ago, dreaming of becoming good architects one day. Today they are here with me waiting for me to say something that makes sense and can inspire them to continue this arduous goal. They decided to spend their spring break here in the Netherlands, they trusted I could lead them to discover new realities and to build important experiences. I hope not to let them down.
At the School of Architecture (Bouwkunde), Urbanism, and Construction Management, we met with Dr. Roberto Rocco who, together with his colleagues, Marcin Dabrowski and Juliana Goncalves, gave us an extraordinary introduction to the School and the country!
Dr. Rocco spoke about the Netherlands in terms of climate resilience, sustainability, location (low land), and the way it was generated. The country is not natural: the landscape has been built by people which explains the great sense of attachment and belonging that promotes a concept of land being very cultural. The Dutch are attached to their farms, animals, tulips, etc…. In general, the Netherlands is a collective-minded society, a rather equal society that has, however, become less so in the last 20 years. Recently, the political whirlwind of rightwing conservationism is reaching this country too. Dealing with issues such as displacement, people tend to be less supportive of each other and immigration is becoming a big issue. Although social housing is still good and decent, there is a strong tendency to address the needs of the upper-middle class and push the rest of the society toward peripheral areas.
Still, the Netherlands is characterized by a more democratic planning strategy: people are consulted before anything gets built. The overall vision is conceived with the residents and the future is consolidated through dialogue and drawings rather than policies and politics.
Dr. Rocco emphasized the importance of the Poldermodel, Collective action, Consensus seeking, and Trust in institutions as markers of the Dutch society.
Finally, he reiterated the economic importance of this small country. Rotterdam is, to present, one of the most important ports in the world. Even if small, the country is one of the largest food exporters due to its use of greenhouses, hydroponics, and vertical agriculture. The water infrastructure as means for wealth but also for destruction. The country is positioned, for the most, below sea level and the Dutch invested enormously in its physical protection.
Marcin Dabrowski led us through the Dutch Design Approach! The Netherlands is a rather small country; hence designers have established interesting spatial planning approaches toward design such as:
- Coordination of space and activities;
- Designing on a large scale in order to meet different stakeholders’ long-term vision desires;
- Participatory Design;
- The Randstad;
- Decentralized urbanization (first), centralized then… de-concentralized, now.
He fast-forwarded through a planning timeline. In the 1990s the Vinex-locations (Vinex-wijken) stimulated a transit-oriented mentality and maintained nature clusters around the city.
In 2000, the Netherlands experienced a period of NO planning. The country adopted a free market orientation, less centralized.
Today, the Dutch planning vision relies on factors such as Participatory and Democratic design; Adaptation to climate change; Aging populations; Housing shortages; Renewable energy; Greener cities; Adopting de-globalization.
Finally, Juliana Goncalves gave us a quick peek at Participatory Design and how her department is implementing it in its studies. Fundamentally, there is little-to-no-trust in academia and communities feel exploited by intellectuals whose sole purpose for connecting with them is to gain insight for publishing a paper in a journal. Rarely are there outcomes resulting from academic studies, and this needs to change!
TUDelft Bouwkunde: www.tudelft.nl/onderwijs/opleidingen/bachelors/bk/bsc-bouwkunde
Our first Rotterdam-based visit was hosted by Duzan Doepel (Founding Partner) from DOEPELSTRIJKERS. Their work ethics and philosophy are outstanding. Their keen eye for space layout and technology is evident in all they do. Their work focuses on sustainability in its broad meaning and circular economy is applied to all their designs. Duzan showed us projects in which technology influences the perception of product consumption and how it influences the consumer’s experience of the space.
Yet, the star project of the presentation was the Dutch Windwheel. The narrative of how they conceived the project was entertaining and the outcome, which is still ongoing, is fascinating!
Once upon a time there were two friends who, while drinking at a bar and sketching on a napkin, came up with the astonishing idea of combining tourism with saving the world! The mega wheel is at the same time an icon and is sustainable architecture that jump-starts the positive impacts of energy generation, transportation, and conservation.
Before our day was over, we cycled over the UNStudio-designed Erasmus bridge and reached Powerhouse Company’s Floating Office Rotterdam (FOR). Albert Takashi Richters (Partner & Architect) walked us through the floating office concept while explaining Rotterdam’s position within a wider European sustainability strategy that focuses on Dutch climate and social resiliency.
While crossing the bridge to the floating office, I bet we were all wishing we had booked one of those AirBnB floating rooms on the Rijnhaven…
Powerhouse Company: www.powerhouse-company.com
Day 5 | Rotterdam
March 14, 2023
We cycled North-West today and joined ExS Architecture (Elina Karanastasi) in Delfshaven, one of the few rare examples of pre-bombed Rotterdam neighborhoods.
Makerdam is Elina Karanastasi’s grand concept of how local entrepreneurship can positively impact neglected neighborhoods. Makerdam is located at the edge of the Bospolder/Tussendijken (BoTu), a deprived area of town that we will get back to later with greater detail.
Elina was a great inspiration to our group. She described her role of architect and landlord and how she was able to bring it all together. In 2017, Elina opened a digital fabrication lab. While fabrication is not her core business, the lab became a haven for many start-up companies whose main focus is to design, create, and produce prototypes and commercial objects. She is an architect specializing in custom-made houses. She conceives, budgets, and builds her projects. The students were fascinated with her story: from Greece to the Netherlands passing through Belgium, Elina was able to create her “home-design” niche and maintain a sustainable and creative office to-date. She offered lunch to the group, making our tightly scheduled transfer to Superuse Studios easier.
Superuse Studios is a special place. It is a one-of-a-kind office that celebrates everything that has been built. The idea behind their work is to design the world using what has already been produced, essentially easing the impact on land-fills and incinerators. Circular economy (how to design using what has already been produced and for which energy has already been used) is their business model. I am confident the students never imagined that the world could be shaped so graciously and generously without compromising on the design. Superuse Studios’ work is crafted and well-designed and harmoniously captures the spirit of space, material, and program.
When asking Wes(sel) Geysels, Architectural Designer at the firm, about his experience with the office, he openly shared that each project is a challenge that they are ready to embrace to minimize the ecological footprint and the carbon emissions during construction without ever compromising on their client’s needs nor final overall aesthetic of the architecture.
My sense is that many students will apply for jobs at Superuse Studios, conscious of the fact that our profession has no other way to go if we wish to keep building and shaping our environment.
After our minds expanded with such innovation and cleverness, we took a pause… And then we came back together at the end of the afternoon to visit the Independent School for the City!
Founded in 2018, the Independent School for the City is a post-graduate educational platform. The non-accredited school is an initiative of Crimson Historians and Urbanists and ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) and it revolves around urban tales. Rotterdam is the focus of the school’s studies while they hunt for common denominators around the world. The pedagogy addresses the practical application of a critical and activist approach while looking through the historical lens of a place.
As we enjoyed the conversation with Michelle Provoost and Wouter Vanstiphout, they introduced the concept of “Designing the action!” — something the students were not familiar with. It was an important conversation about participatory and democratic urbanism. That led to more complex concepts on super diversity (when the urban minority becomes the majority), the right to the city (inclusive planning), the decline of anthropocentric (human centered) design, and post-growth (what happens to the city in an era where economic growth is not happening).
On that same Thursday evening, the School presented a lecture at 7 pm and I am sure some students went back to attend it and to continue this exciting conversation about the city!
Superuse Studios: www.superuse-studios.com
Independent School for the City: www.schoolforthecity.nl
Day 6 | Rotterdam
March 15, 2023
On the 5th of November 2021, His Majesty the King of the Netherlands inaugurated the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Today we are also here, capturing our bodies both as individuals and as a group on the reflective surface of its round shaped glass-clad facade.
The Depot was designed to display all that any other regular museum would keep in storage. All 151,000 objects are made transparent under one roof, next to the museum building that is undergoing renovation. Designed by MVRDV for a total budget of € 94,000,000, the goal was to design an inviting public storage space that welcomes everyone to appreciate the art collection.
The building is 100% accessible both physically as well as visually and, together with displaying an otherwise hidden collection, it educates the public on the art of storing, restoring, and maintaining art. The environmental features of this project are displayed in the surrounding landscape and on the roof top: the birches, grasses and pines placed on the roof help to retain water, promote biodiversity and reduce heat stress in the city. We toured the building with Rico van de Gevel, Technical Architect, and Jimin Jung, Online Marketing Specialist with MVRDV.
Museum Park: en.rotterdam.info/locations/museumpark-en
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen: www.boijmans.nl/depot
After lunch at the Western Pavilion, we biked to GROUP A Architects (Group for Architecture) located in Merwe-Vierhavens (M4H)… It was nice reconnecting with my very first employer in Rotterdam from many years ago. Today, Maarten van Bremen, architect, partner and co-founder, gathered us on the green bleachers and lectured us on Rotterdam as a harbor city. He emphasized the importance of M4H’s location, its history, its scale, its low density, its proximity to Rotterdam center, and its strategic importance in urban expansion. M4H is a former port area that has been classified as a maker area of experimental grounds and creativity. This zone is highly polluted and it is a subject of great debate at the city level.
On this very problematic yet upcoming area, GROUP A bought the building that is currently housing them and so many other offices: the Keilepand. Keilepand, in collaboration with studio ADAMS, was completely transformed! In 2019 this group of enlightened and like-minded entrepreneurs acquired the building and turned it into an activity-based building. This endeavor addresses the first step towards achieving the city of Rotterdam’s vision of a lively and working-oriented area with space for creative and innovative businesses leading toward a sustainable future.
This concept perfectly fits into GROUP A’s Carbon Lab; their think tank studio whose mission is to investigate how our field can reduce the CO2 footprint of projects from design to construction. The goal is not to design and build carbon neutral buildings, but to challenge our profession to conceive and build climate positive projects sustaining and empowering societies.
De Urbanisten, led by Dirk van Peijpe, is one of those bright minds occupying Keilepand. Dirk graciously took us for a walk and showed us what they are doing on site. Dirk pointed to the creation of the 1-to-1 prototype Sponge Garden, which was made possible by the large property his office occupies. This Garden was built to test new concepts for collecting, retaining and returning rainwater to the natural environment. Dirk expanded the concept to the city (Sponge City): urban areas with abundant natural milieus such as trees, lakes, and park intended to absorb rain and prevent flooding. Furthermore, water retention is kept on site through “cascading” hence the act of keeping water as local as possible and using gravity to redistribute collected water instead of electricity.
Dirk reiterated the office’s principle of operating locally on every intervention. As an example, he brought us to one of his current largest projects in Rotterdam. The Keilehaven Tidal Park will be a future haven on the natural estuary system of Rotterdam. De Urbanisten intends to create a park that stands at the intersection of cultural and social emergencies (immigration, integration, …) and natural spontaneous processes.
GROUP A: groupa.nl
De Urbanisten: www.urbanisten.nl
We ended our 6th day in Rotterdam with Zico Lopez and Carla Costa from Spatial Codes in Bospolder/Tussendijken (BoTu). As referenced before, BoTu is a marginalized neighborhood of Rotterdam. Although it was difficult for the Baltimoreans in our group to understand the stresses of the area, for the Netherlands the area is suffering inequalities related to income, crime rate, education opportunities, garbage, drugs, and segregation. However, there is a neighborhood renewal in place. Spatial Codes is the front-runner of such transformation.
Zico (Owner and Principal Architect) grew up in the area and, as an architect, he is rooted in the neighborhood. He believes this side of town can become a vibrant and resilient neighborhood by strengthening the community. Zico’s vision for this community is to trust the people because only the residents and their own informal networks can lead the transformation. Unfortunately, institutions have failed this community and the sustainable neighborhood improvement can only occur through the empowerment of people who are truly invested in the area.
Zico Lopes / Spatial Codes – Studio for Architecture & Inclusion: spatialcodes.nl
Day 7 | Rotterdam
March 16, 2023
This is the day for visiting Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and MVRDV: students dressed up for these and some walked in with their portfolio in hand.
We arrived at OMA’s new office at 11:30 am. Marina Fernandez Maestre, Public Relations, provided us with a presentation of the old iconic buildings produced by the Rotterdam office. Funny that I could recognize a few on which I also worked during my long period there. The presentation was dynamic: we walked through the long corridors of the office and the students were literally diving with their whole body into the large scale physical models displayed along the way.
One of the most significant buildings that OMA realized for Rotterdam is De Rotterdam (The Rotterdam) — it stands tall and proud on the Wilhelminapier Island, across the Erasmus bridge, on the south side of the city.
When visiting the building De Rotterdam later today, Rotterdam city architect Marc Verheijen explained the importance of the bridge to our group. It connects the center of Rotterdam to one of its first urban extension toward the south: the Kop van Zuid. One highlight in Marc’s presentation was the urban development of the city and its focus on slow mobility and the carbon-free/low impact strategy adopted by the city administrators.
Rotterdam is resilient and is leading a redevelopment that is focused on people and environmental sustainability (pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, strengthening public transportation connections, water re-sanitation, parks, etc…).
For a year now, I have been privileged to work with the Ecological Design Collective (EDC), a community for radical ecological imagination and collaborative practice. Listening to Rotterdam’s urban and social agenda made it clear to me that design is adopting a more decentralized approach by moving away from anthropocentric design and moving towards a more ecologically focused path that is inclusive and factors in all the species in the universe.
From where we were standing, on the 40th floor of De Rotterdam, the city renewal unfolded clearly before our eyes. From there we had a great view of the city center; we could look back at the floating offices, the far away Katendrecht island that is the future expansion of Rotterdam.
Office for Metropolitan Architecture: www.oma.com
De Rotterdam: derotterdam.nl
Cycling back across the bridge and toward the center of Rotterdam, the students got a peek at the Timmerhuis project (MVRDV) and the Markthal (MVRDV).
The day ended at MVRDV. After checking in and signing release forms, we sat by the bleachers running parallel to the main design studio and Gijs Rikken Associate Design Director and Architect started his lecture.
What a fun place to work! While Gijs was amusing us with stories of teams interacting with projects and clients, obsessing over the choice of colors and materials, exploring the city through unsolicited projects that provided new and fantastic experiences to Rotterdammers, the work at the office was moving along as usual. From where we were sitting, we could enjoy the buzz of young and less young designers collaborating on future state-of-the- art buildings populating the globe.
Gijs projects’ selection for this presentation was Rotterdam-based. Gijs opened with the Markthal, of course, and walked us through some daring 1 to 1 spatial studies intended to explore new ways of living in the city. From the Blue House to the Podium and its staircase, MVRDV is colonizing the roofs of the city to provide more houses and parks.
Once again the students could not contain their enthusiasm and, despite the long day, they all hung out with Gijs after the lecture and asked for more. They wanted to know more about this crazy and wonderful world of architecture created in Rotterdam. What followed was a business cards exchange and the promise of sending out portfolios… soon.
For a few of us, the day ended at the Nieuwe Instituut, a cultural center located by the Museum Park that focuses on architecture, design, and digital culture. Every Thursday evening, the center hosts lectures at 7pm. This evening it will be about “Blue: Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions” by Malkit Shoshan. Two faculty members will attend the presentation.
Het Nieuwe Instituut: nieuweinstituut.nl/en
DAY 8 | Rotterdam
March 17, 2023
Officially the last day of our trip; starting tomorrow through Monday the students will either rest, head back to the U.S., or travel independently.
The day was characterized by spending time with new friends and colleagues, cycling and walking around, aware of the fact that the city is working with its residents to facilitate slow mobility, and starting healthy conversations on how things could be improved on both sides of the pond.
The morning program was at De Rotterdam with students and faculty from the Rotterdamse Academie van Bouwkunst (RAvB). There we received lectures from Andre de Wit and Karen van der Spek, who provided a brief history of Rotterdam, explained the mobility vision of the city, and introduced the City Lounge Concept, as well as the Walk Monitor (R’Dam Walks). Martine de Vaan pitched and reflected on Citydeal, an initiative driven to promote urban walkability during office hours. The concept revolves around entertaining business conversations while walking through the city: MeetWalk.
In general, the City of Rotterdam is pushing toward a transportation model where cars are at the bottom of the mobility pyramid while pedestrians, bikes, and public transit are at the top.
Before hitting the streets of Rotterdam again with our bikes, we had the opportunity to exchange and compare realities from across the pond. Rotterdam’s transformation is from a car-oriented city to a well curated set of slow human-centric experiences. On the other hand, Baltimore is still gentrifying areas that are less than 50% Black.
After this lecture, we biked all together to RAvB where we had lunch before a ‘Guerrilla Walk’ to the Little C, Erasmus medical centre, ’s-Gravendijkwal, Huize Middelland/Wijkpaleis. The walk was organized to provide the students with a first-hand urban experience and critique. We concluded the walk with students’ observations shared during teatime at Coolhaven (Cool).
Back to the Academie (RAvB), where architect and urban planner Klaus Philipsen provided an evening lecture about Baltimore. This was an intense conclusion of the week’s program. Klaus presented the reality of Baltimore to an audience that, urbanistically speaking, is extremely privileged! Rotterdam is transforming; designers are looking into producing energy through buildings; cars are downsized; public transportation is solid; riding a bike is cultural, and roads’ sections are diversifying to allow more people to walk on the streets.
After eight days in Rotterdam, the students’ sensitivity to their surroundings has definitely changed leading to a rather animated discussion. Much of the conversation revolved around systematic racism, institutionalized discrimination that is hurting the very core of every American city. Segregation is the primary cause of the failure of urbanity in the States. There could never be a comfortable urban reality in Baltimore until there is a reconciliation between the sides. The city needs to come together and work on more equitable and just solutions for all. If privileges are only distributed among certain communities, comprehensive urban sustainability cannot be achieved.
Specifically, students addressed the history of Baltimore’s infrastructure in their discussions. For example, there was an interesting debate in Baltimore after the city received $2 million in federal funding to plan for the redevelopment of the Highway to Nowhere in West Baltimore, a highway project that destroyed homes and businesses and displaced 1,500 residents at the time of its construction more than 50 years ago.
Exchanging ideas with Karen van der Spek (Program coordinator, City of Rotterdam), she shared that Rotterdam, in a metaphorical sense, also had its highway to nowhere: in order to build a six-way road, the river Rotte would have had to be filled in and two very characteristic neighborhoods, the Oude Noorden and Crooswijk, would have been cut in two and partly demolished. Fortunately, in 1970 these working-class communities came into action and, in 1975 successfully stopped the plan. This event marked a change in the way the city should be developed. Rotterdam would no longer focus on getting cars from point A to point B as swiftly as possible, but instead would invest in the ideas of attractive green and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
Karen surmised that the Black communities along the Highway to Nowhere in Baltimore might have had zero support and suggested that the big difference between the two sister cities is the Gini Index of Baltimore, which shows a large inequality in the distribution of income. Although Rotterdam still has lots of work to do to give everyone the same chances and fight the inequalities that are actually there, inequity is so much more prevalent in Baltimore!
Rotterdamse Academie van Bouwkunde (RAvB): www.ravb.nl
DAY 8 | Antwerp, Belgium
March 18, 2023
This Saturday, the students, one faculty member, and a local Baltimore architect traveled to Antwerp. The first highlight of the trip was the Havenhuis (Port House) by Zaha Hadid. The building is located in the Eilandje, a spectacular, mix used, extremely accessible area within the urban Port of Antwerp. This “flying building” is like a bird hovering above a disused fire station and is composed by a multi-facetted façade that sparkles with reflections of sunlight and the surrounding water. The building, commonly referred to as either a diamond or a ship’s hull, is an impressing addition to an already uniquely transformative neighborhood at the edge of the city center.
The second highlight of this visit were the Belgium waffles with strawberries and whip cream, of course!
This week I was also informed that Morgan State University rejected my application for tenure1 . This week concludes a six-year chapter of my personal and professional life in Baltimore. I am forever grateful to some people that entered my life and changed it in many ways. I have acquired skills that I would have never otherwise gained if I had not accepted a position at Morgan.
With regret, I realize that my work does not align with the grand umbrella of this institution and that my interests and what I am willing to give does not overlap with this institution’s mission. I believe that students need to be offered the choice of working immediately after graduation. We must provide them the tools to be employable and competitive in the market. At the same time, they must be aware and critical of their surroundings, made possible through applied research investigations. We must provide the fundamental background, the foundation for them to stand comfortably and confidently in order to design with sensitivity and with respect to people and the environment.
My take away from this trip? Observing the faces of each of my students as they realize the opportunity of being on this tour. Each and every one of their faces while looking at an OMA model, listening to speakers at GROUP A’s Carbon Lab action, standing on the floating office, peeking at the MVRDV sweat studios, listening to Duzan’s enthusiasm for the Dutch Windwheel, admiring Elina’s entrepreneurial skills, and being surprised by the City Planners’ description of how hundreds of planners are working to make Rotterdam one of the most sustainable, competitive, and pedestrian-oriented cities in the world.
None of this would have been possible without the SA+P students. The students were the driving force for successful fundraising, the opportunity for local architects to join the trip, and my personal motivation to craft such an exciting program!
My deepest respect goes to the fundraising committee that so graciously volunteered their time and experience to secure the financial possibility for the students to travel to Rotterdam (Andrew Bui, Austin Tucker, Rachel Sengers, Ryan Eubanks, and Susannah Bergmann).
Thank you Rachel Sengers (chair of the Baltimore-Rotterdam Sister City Committee), Laura Penza (Penza Bailey- studio of PRIME AE), Susannah Bergmann (Kaliber Construction Inc.), and Andrew Bui, Adjunct Professor at SA+P, the master mind behind the creation of CityScapes sold at Christmas Market. Thank you Maggie Martin Del Campo for editing this work.
Thank you Wouter for believing in me and taking care of our off-springs hence allowing me to curate this experience.
1. After my appeal, I have been granted promotion to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure in the School of Architecture and Planning, in the Department of Graduate Built Environment Studies, effective Fall 2023.
THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT:
Gary A. Bowden FAIA, Architect Emeritus
The Doctrow Family Endowment Fund
Photographer initials in the photo credits: CCM: Cristina C. Murphy; AB: Andrew Bui; AR: Albert Takashi Richters; KP: Klaus Philipsen; RS: Rachel Sengers; SB: Susannah Bergmann.