Het Blauwe Huis

Information [EN]

The Blue House: A project by Jeanne van Heeswijk & Hervé Paraponaris
(Amsterdam, IJburg 2005 - 2009)

In 1996, Amsterdam City Council decided to proceed with the development of IJburg, a residential district as an alternative to the city centre and surrounding areas. These residential areas are being created on a cluster of manmade islands, and the project is set for completion in 2012. The district will then provide 18,000 dwellings for 45,000 residents. These dwellings are primarily being constructed in a block layout, each composed of a mix of owner-occupied dwellings and social-sector rental housing, in the proportion 80:20. All the dwellings are situated around a communal courtyard or garden. IJburg must also provide employment opportunities for 12,000 people. Besides housing, schools and shops, plans include construction of sports facilities, restaurants, a beach and a cemetery. Typical of a new habitat like IJburg is that the entire project is devised in the conference room and on the drawing board. In this process, nothing is left to chance.

Though IJburg is not a ‘problem’ area, it is lacking something extremely important, namely a history – a social and human history, stories, life and a beating heart. Each of these qualities and elements must grow, and cannot be planned on the drawing board or built by a contractor. It has been demonstrated that these qualities are decisive for an area’s identity as well as for its inhabitants and users. They are therefore of crucial importance. In contrast to old city quarters, which can look back upon a rich history, in IJburg it is only possible to look ahead. However, the first pioneers are already starting to leave the area, in search of a new challenge, while for other people it is attractive that the district is at last starting to take shape. History can be written as you go along, but then it must be recognized as such, documented and developed further.

According to urban planning expert Bart Wissink, criticism of the planning methodology used for IJburg, among other places, has become extremely stark. Such rigorously regulated, zoned expansion districts are frequently cited as examples of where a predetermined spatial intervention is also meant to lead to the residents gaining a sense of community. However, he wonders, does it really work like this? It has already been a long time since people organized themselves on this scale; their lives extend far beyond the borders of the neighbourhood and even the city, and activities are also conducted on a diversity of scales. The attribution of an unambiguous identity to a particular place is, moreover, at odds with the character of the space, which is open to multiple interpretations. But on a larger scale as well, the impossibility of ‘makeable’ society (or, in this case, ‘plannable’ society) is becoming increasingly evident. Urbanity is often hard to detect in the majority of expansion districts of the last decade. They are areas that are based wholly on the doctrine of segregation. The division of functional domains such as living and working, the separation of infrastructure, the separation of income groups (social-sector rental housing versus owner-occupied homes), and so on and so forth. This doctrine of segregation stems from the craving for control. This doctrine is also the reason why no form of urbanity can ever develop in these areas. That is because urbanity is founded on encounter: interpersonal encounter, the encounter of cultures, ideas, and so on. For example, the encounter of different ideas sparks new ideas. Urban qualities, a beating heart, shared history, social interaction and a sense of community are, indeed, all qualities that must grow and evolve; they cannot be planned on the drawing board or be built by a contractor.

This also applies for the Haveneiland (‘Harbour Island’), with its ‘Castellum’ (also known as 'Block 35') designed by TKA (Teun Koolhaas Associates, now Atelier DUTCH). This block is also composed of a mix of owner-occupied dwellings and social-sector rental housing. All the units in 'Block 35' are situated around a communal courtyard, which has a cobalt blue townhouse in the middle. On the initiative of the artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, the 'Blauwe Huis' (‘Blue House’), which was already a bone of contention because of its position (something like an observation post or lookout within the block), will not be put up for sale for a period of at least four years. The point of this is to establish it as a house for culture and a place for research into the development and evolution of history and experimental communities. It is a spot that cannot be regulated within a living environment that has been planned down to the last millimeter, a place for exchange and dialogue.

Because of its position on IJburg (an artificially created island) as part of the newly built residential area under development there, the Blue House is the ideal platform for research into how such a district takes shape and the way in which people go about using, appropriating and changing the public space. Block 35 is one of the first sections being developed on IJburg. The Blue House can therefore follow the development of IJburg and the development of this new community up close. This combination of location and a particular moment in time, coupled with the opportunity to be a temporary co-inhabitant of IJburg, offers the Blue House’s residents an ideal platform for studying, acting on and co-designing the public space on IJburg.

Aims and Objectives
In the history of art, the desire for a ‘house for the arts’ is nothing unusual. On 9 September 1888, Vincent van Gogh wrote about his ‘Yellow House’ in Arles in a letter to his colleague Gauguin. In this letter, Van Gogh expressed his desire to establish a house where he could offer hospitality to fellow artists with whom he wished to work intensively and exchange ideas. A place for living and working, as well as for presentation and debate, would be accommodated under a single roof. He created such a place in what would later become known as the Yellow House. There have, indeed, been more places like this. For example, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived at the renowned and notorious 'Casa Azul' (‘Blue House’) in Mexico in the period around 1940. Discussions that arose there and the artistic output did not simply have an influence on the city (via the medium of Diego’s murals) but also, thanks to guests like Leon Trotsky, even had an impact on world history. In turn, the Blue House can become a base from which IJburg, in its early years as a new society, can be scrutinized critically, and not only because of the prominent place within the block but particularly because of the imagination-sparking associations with its historical predecessors. It provides a platform for research into experimental communities and the development of a (future) history.

Over a four-year period, artists, architects, thinkers, writers and scholars of various nationalities are being invited to live and work in the Blue House for six-month residencies. These residents have been given the assignment of actively entering into a dialogue with one another, with their co-inhabitants in IJburg, and with the public. The aim is to establish links between the world within (their world) and outside (IJburg in development and the rest of the world), and thus become co-authors of IJburg’s genesis and evolutionary history, which also includes the cultural history of a community. The residents of the Blue House will interpret and translate the evolution of an identity, or indeed the search for it, in all kinds of different ways, simultaneously recording and documenting it for the future. By conducting research, producing works of art, films and publications, and holding presentations and other activities, a new infrastructure will be created in and around the house. An infrastructure, like a network, in which information is continuously exchanged about the evolving urban space and in which its problems will be rendered visible, too. The Blue House will therefore serve as an impulse for the urban dynamic by intervening locally with projects that could be seen as a form of ‘instant urbanity’. These are projects that make it possible to cut through the doctrine of segregation and attempt to make the public space into a shared space without this requiring large-scale urban interventions.

The Blue House functions like a catalyst for an accelerated formulation of history in IJburg. By describing and simultaneously intervening in everyday life in this area, the Blue House facilitates the acceleration and intensification of the process of developing a cultural history. The studies and projects to be initiated from the Blue House exist outside the tradition of standard cultural historiography. They do not constitute a cultural monograph or a ‘retroactive manifesto’, but are an experimental form of historiography in which documentation and production are interwoven in a unique way.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Blue House is a project of Jeanne van Heeswijk in collaboration with Dennis Kaspori and Hervé Paraponaris, and is supported by Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, de Alliantie, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Europese Unie, Digitale Pioniers, Stichting DOEN, ECF, Fonds BKVB, Mondriaan Stichting, SKOR, SNS REAAL Fonds, Stadsdeel Zeeburg, VSB Fonds and Waterstad 3. For more information on The Blue House you can contact us via info@blauwehuis.org.