Ideologies have always propelled architecture and urban design, up to now that is. The most recent one, deconstructivism, effectively did away with the proverbial 'grand narrative'. The upshot is that individuality and difference now prevail above the unity and uniformity.
Given this fluctuating development, this non-ideology is perhaps more difficult than ever to challenge. It renews itself gradually in a way that prevents genuine criticism; ideology may be back in vogue, but analysis is lacking. Within this context we should be alert to every glimpse of possible ideology.
66 EAST, Centre for Urban Culture, sees its role as one of promoting artistic positions in the various artistic disciplines, and in architecture and urban design in particular. By doing so it hopes to offer parallel alternatives to the 'planned' approach to the contemporary city that, according to founders Marc Schoonderbeek, Helge KŁhnel, Zoe Gorni and Tahl Kamina, never stood a chance and will always be problematic.
In subtle and admirable fashion, 66 East infiltrates the planning system by carving out a strategic niche for itself in the multicultural heart of Amsterdam East with direct support from the local council and De Dageraad housing association. The initiative will therefore relocate in response to the availability of space in the district. 66 EAST doesn't want to be an ordinary gallery. A programme of art, studies, lectures and critical interventions, based on new themes ideally formulated by different curators, will present a different urban reality.
Footnotes on Walls, the third exhibition since the venue opened in March 2004, presents 14 personal interpretations of the wall as divider/connector and also as anonymous/personal element. A highly diverse collection of pieces that have little in common with one another. The exhibitors come from different backgrounds and respond freely to the abstract theme: the Wall.
Among the works is a fascinating, impossible stack of bricks (Guy Bahir), an ingenious video painting of an interior composed of rubbish (Esther Kempf/NaomiGerstein), a graphic and architectural comparison of wall qualities in different countries (B.A. Ephemera), illuminated texts that comment on the passage through the wall (Benoit Goupy) and a manipulated graph of French wallpaper (Tove TÝmmerberg). These are personal flashes of inspiration, most of them witty and aesthetic, some of them fascinating, but seldom do they encourage further speculation on architecture or urban design. The wall is never the subject of criticism, and thematically it remains simply an object to hang things on. Architecture and urban design may be the subject, art may be the medium, but criticism and provocation seem absent.
But the venue in the eastern district is a big success. Its physical presence challenges the position between cultures, experiences and possible critical intervention. Visiting an exhibition here is certainly exciting, for it always takes you from the familiar into an unfamiliar world.
Does ideology lie concealed in 66 EAST? Is it possible to offer depth, without a political agenda, through even more individuality and difference? Can these fascinating observations, visions and images reach today's and tomorrow's policy makers, who are ultimately in positions to effect a cultural shift in how we approach the city? A visit to 66 EAST is recommended for every critical architect or urban designer. Much can be discovered through this approach, and hopefully it will spawn mutual ideological influencing amongst disciplines.