Almost, but not quite. Because the essays in this Yearbook are more legible than the project descriptions and offer plenty more food for thought. Roemer van Toorn grapples with the phenomenon of the 'designed life', which now seems to be swallowing architecture. This has been lamented for centuries, but the explosion of visual culture and new media in recent decades adds a new dimension. On the lurk now, more than ever, are forms without function, propaganda without ideology, and ornament without meaning. The diagnosis is clear, yet it is as unoriginal as Van Toorn's fear of the emptiness of the flat image. All the same, it's good to have to face the bare facts, albeit briefly, in such a jolly Yearbook. And to have to ask yourself once more what is so alarming about the emptiness of 'narcissistic design' - because unfortunately that's a question Van Toorn doesn't address.
After the philosophical musings of Van Toorn, Piet Vollaard's survey of ten years of architecture policy is an interesting though somewhat dry historical review. He concludes with the provocative question: 'what's in it for us?' What exactly has it done for built architecture and for the Dutch who have to live in it? And where does it go from here?
Neatly complementing Van Toorn's story is Arthur Wortmann's contribution. He voices concern at the increasing commercialisation of architecture publications and the increasing popularity of quick-and-easy vanity publishing at the expense of reflection. Monographs are becoming sales catalogues for architects who themselves trade in architectural packaging. Again, it's an ancient complaint but one that is particularly pertinent today. Let's hope that all those people who see the Yearbook primarily as a suppliers' catalogue of packaging and wrapping-paper patterns will actually read the text. It's amusing, for that matter, that Wortmann fails to see the irony in having his piece published here of all places. That ivory tower again, perhaps?
And then we come to the final essay (by Anne Hoogewoning), a look back at the fifteen-year life of the Yearbook and particularly at the projects that have featured. A magnificent compilation of statistics, full of well-chosen shots in front of an open goal - all of which are missed because there's no attempt at analysis. A splendid final note is the cheerfully formulated (and statistically substantiated) statement that 95% of Dutch architectural firms have never been admitted to the strictly policed 'architectural paradise' known as 'Yearbookland', followed by a series of diagrams telling the who, what and where of the other 5%. The book ends just when it gets good. Like I said, logic has never been the Yearbook's strongest point.
Ivory towers can certainly be tall in some circles - so tall that they're not really buildings at all. For to extol the virtues - twice - of a crematorium because the bereaved can manoeuvre themselves through it so elegantly and discreetly is like saying how wonderful it is that water is wet. And who has never seen a shop beneath a viaduct? And while I'm in a whining mood: the Yearbook introduces periscope vision. For how else can you peer through the partly blocked-off bays between the legs of Meyer & Van Schooten's ING Bank from the motorway and still see the area behind it? Or the IJ waterway through the Silodam colossus by MVRDV? Of course sight lines are in, but we all know by now that you have to verify those alluring assertions of architects on site. Much-loved princes and princesses are obviously locked in that tall, ivory tower.
Not everyone is in love with those same darlings luckily. So where one person sees a subtly integrated new residential development, another person sees an alien carbuncle. Still, there are limits. The ultimate in this genre of 'love blinds', on pages 44-45, must surely be the assertion that Parkweg metro station by Hans van Heeswijk contains no 'dark corners, alcoves or dead-ends'. And what do we see right beside this sentence? Exactly, a classic dead-end just waiting for a tramp to move in. As usual, there's nothing wrong with the pictures in the Yearbook. There are even some without blue skies! Look but don't read would seem to be the advice.
Reviewing this remarkable phenomenon is actually impossible, because it defies all logic. Even its basic principles. Put together a Yearbook about Dutch pop music that contains just hip hop and press and public alike will destroy you. But there doesn't seem to be any difficulty with an architecture yearbook containing almost nothing but hip, modernistic, high-tech - call it what you will. VPRO architecture rules in 'Yearbookland'. Nice of course, and there's no need to include any old song, but a Top 40 hit or thumping dance number once in a while makes for a bit of variety and balance. Where are the terraced houses? Does banality have no quality whatsoever?
Luckily, only a few people take the Yearbook selection seriously. Among them are the editors themselves, who obviously think that they are presenting 'architecture of the highest quality' and projects that are 'typical of the trends' in new Dutch building. As I said, the Yearbook is an intangible phenomenon. It's is nonetheless remarkable that, despite 150 years of avant-garde rebellion against the art establishment, people still entertain such pretensions, even though you'd think they'd never been to Hoofddorp or Leidsche Rijn. A typical case of old-style politics perhaps? Or hip self-propaganda with a touch of irony? Propaganda is this year's theme, but the project descriptions that accompany the selected masterpieces suggest the former: an incomprehensible jumble of unnecessary jargon, open doors, and facts and figures in officialese, sprinkled here and there with obligatory gibes at banality, small-mindedness and other unwholesome matters. And all that in sloppy, plodding prose that's often anything but clear. An example for the die-hards: 'This tall, narrow space makes you aware of your body - of your feet, your stomach, your head. Arrival here is an experience.' Or how about this: 'Rather than a tectonic of structural detail organizing the variable space of city and place, it is the free expression of contrasting strong forms of glass and brick that create space in the public and private realm.'