Ben van Berkel: The new understanding

The UNStudio cofounder discusses newness in architecture alongside his recent projects in this Current Work event.

February 1, 2011
7:00 p.m.

UNStudio | Burnham Pavilion, Chicago, IL, 2009. Credit: Christian Richters

Current Work is a lecture series featuring leading figures in the worlds of architecture, urbanism, design, and art.

Ben van Berkel, founding partner, with Caroline Bos, of the Dutch architectural design studio UNStudio, will present the office’s current projects within the context of the firm’s belief in constant experimentation through building.

The firm describes its practice as:

Today, the discipline of architecture is wide open to the possibility of radical change. The narratives of gain and growth that explained, legitimized, and propelled forward so much architecture in the past decades have been interrupted. The focus now is on articulating new conceptualizations of possibly all the vital considerations at the core of the field.

Yet this is nothing new in itself; architecture thrives on newness. Without continuous material, cultural, and ideological innovations, the profession loses its specificity and becomes simply a bland part of a generic building industry. With UNStudio we have long realized this, which is why we have pushed ourselves in many different directions, continuously addressing new challenges and questions. But at the same time this experimental attitude has also led us to consciously seek to build as much as we could. Disengagement from the dangers of the building industry within the globalized economy has never been our preferred option.

Perhaps now, even more than at the height of the boom, this engagement is necessary to identify the topics that we need to understand in new ways. These topics are: knowledge, cultural versus economic values, speed and the future. How do we begin to understand these anew? How can we find a new balance between timeless values endogenous and exogenous to architecture?

UNStudio (United Network Studio) has expanded its capabilities through prolonged collaboration with an extended network of international consultants, partners, and advisors across the globe. This network, combined with offices in Amsterdam and Shanghai, enables the firm to work throughout the world. With over seventy projects in Asia, Europe, and North America, the studio continues to expand its global presence with recent commissions in among others China, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Germany, and the USA.

The office has produced a wide range of work, from public buildings, infrastructure, offices, and residential products to urban master plans. Pivotal UNStudio projects within these fields include the New Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart (2006), the large scale mixed-use project Raffles City in Hangzhou (2008–2012), the Galleria Department Store in Seoul (2005), the urban and architectural plan for 81 residential towers of I’Park City in Suwon, Korea (2007–2012), department store Star Place in Kaoshiung, Taiwan (2009), private family house VilLA NM in upstate New York (2007), the Agora theatre in Lelystad, Netherlands (2007), and the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam (1996).

Ben van Berkel studied architecture at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and the Architectural Association in London, receiving the AA Diploma with honors in 1987. In 1988 he and Caroline Bos first set up an architectural practice, Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau, in Amsterdam. In 1998 van Berkel and Bos established their new firm, UNStudio. Van Berkel has lectured and taught at many architectural schools around the world. Currently he is professor of conceptual design at the Staedelschule in Frankfurt am Main. Central to his teaching is the inclusive approach of architectural works, integrating virtual and material organization and engineering constructions.

Moderated by Stan Allen. Allen is principal of Stan Allen Architect and dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University.


This lecture is co-sponsored by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union.

The League gratefully acknowledges Alan Wanzenberg for his support of this program.  This program was made possible in part by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.



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