Meyer & Van Schooten

Meyer & van Schooten Architecten

 

The portfolio of Meyer & Van Schooten Architecten is varied. Their work is often described as dynamic and expressive, with a fascination for technology. This refers not only to the elaboration of architectural concepts, but also to the application of innovative techniques in seeking to advance the art of making buildings.
 

Interview by Mart Engelen
Photography by Mart Engelen
 

They started their own firm while still in their early 20s. Two decades down the road, Roberto Meyer and Jeroen van Schooten have gained international renown, with several of the most prestigious buildings in the Netherlands to their name, at some of the most eye-catching locations. If one could determine a single constant in the work of Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten, it would be the firm’s ongoing quest for quality. ‘It is the architect’s duty to preserve this quality. This means daring to take on a directing role.’

 

Mart Engelen: What is architecture?
Roberto Meyer: You tell me! It’s rather a broad
question, to say the least, but I’d say that architecture is
the creation of the spatial conditions within which particular
activities can unfold. It always has some kind of
ideological goal at its basis. All kinds of aspects – social,
sustainable and functional, but also sculptural – make
up the soul of architecture. Ideas acquire physical form
in materials, and in other elementary factors such as
light. Together, these aspects transform construction
into architecture.
ME: Do you try to direct this experience?
RM: Yes I do, in the sense that the spatial characteristics
of a building define the way it is experienced, in
the dialogue of a building with its surroundings, the
experiential value of the public spaces that are created,
and with these its impact on, for example, the urban
environment.
ME: What is the essence of a Meyer and Van Schooten
design?
RM: A positive attitude towards the future. We’re
not revivalists, despite the high value we place on our
cultural heritage. Instead, we’re constantly searching
for new formulations of questions, which sometimes
embrace contradictions. Take for example the ING
Bank head offices, where our aim was to develop a
building that was transparent and yet at the same time
highly sustainable. We make use of technologically
innovative materials, like those from the automotive
and aerospace industries, to find the appropriate solutions
to these often complex issues. The fact that this
complexity forces us into inventiveness is often what
makes it so very exciting for us. At the same time, we
as architects have a great social responsibility. In general,
everything that we create as architects will survive
us, so the built environment must be able to tell
its own story.
ME: What is the relationship between art and architecture?
RM: Architecture can be art. As I see it, this happens
when architecture concerns itself with more than beauty
alone; when it also has a particular cultural message.
That can mean, as we’ve sometimes seen, that plans
can seem to collide with the standards and values of the
day, and that they must fight to win a space where they
can push the boundaries, so they will be embraced in
the future. Amsterdam’s stock exchange, the Beurs van
Berlage, is a good example of this. The plans encountered
enormous opposition at the time, but today every
brick is almost a sacred relic.
ME: What projects are you working on right now?
RM: Our bureau is involved in a number of diverse
projects. There’s the renovated Ministry of Finance,
which we’ve just completed, and the New Babylon development,
which is still under construction. There are
the CBS offices in Heerlen, the Centre for the Dutch
Armed Forces in the former Kromhout Barracks, and
the new Central Station in Rotterdam, which we’re developing
together with Benthem and Crouwel as well
as West8.
ME: What is your favourite building in the world?
RM: I don’t have a specific favourite, more a range of
buildings, on different levels. For example I admire the
work of John Lautner, an architect who has built many
beautiful homes in Los Angeles. We are living in a
particular zeitgeist, and within that there are a number
of different colleagues for whom I have the greatest
respect.
ME: Does fashion have an influence on your designs?
RM: Definitely, although I feel you must draw the distinction
that fashion is generally much more transient.
But I’m always influenced by things that are beautifully
finished in fine detail: a certain ‘slickness’ has an enormously
inspiring effect on me.
ME: Rem Koolhaas once remarked that ‘you need
to accept the world in all its sloppiness and somehow
make that into a culture’. Do you agree?
RM: You know, when I’m up in an aeroplane, high
in the sky, I always find it easy to gain a sense of perspective.
There you are, looking down on all those
tiny houses… it makes me wonder what we all get so
worked up about! But still, on the other hand there’s
always another factor at work, and that’s the hope that
you’re contributing to something of lasting value, to
improving the experience of the city. The architect
bears an important responsibility for that. So what you
see from the air may seem like no more than postagestamp
plots of land, but those ‘postage stamps’ have a
profound influence on our ways of thinking about how
we should approach our built environment.
ME: Is the colour of a building very important?
RM: I think it is. My preference is for very neutral colours,
but in fact it has much more to do with light. As a
photographer, you know all about that! How does the
light penetrate a building? Often you don’t need colour
at all. Something I really can’t stand is a colour collage!
I allow myself to be guided by the natural colours of the
materials.
ME: I see some buildings in Amsterdam that were
only constructed 10 years ago, yet they already look like
the buildings in the Banlieue of Paris due to the choice
of materials.
RM: Where that’s concerned we’ve grown older and
hopefully wiser. A building should be constructed
from materials that can mature and retain their beauty
as they age.
ME: Which of the world’s cities inspire you, and
why?
RM: Tokyo in 1990 was a real eye-opener for Jeroen
and myself. It profoundly changed us. The Japanese
architecture of the time radiated such energy and finesse!
We’ve maintained close contacts with Japanese
architects such as Toyo Ito and Kenzo Kuma right up
to the present day. But big cities are always an inspiration
to me: Hong Kong, New York, Buenos Aires…
unfortunately, because of globalisation, everywhere is
starting to look like everywhere else!
ME: How old were you when you first became interested
in architecture?
RM: From the moment I was born! No, seriously,
when I was five years old and I’d just come to live in ‘There is always hope that you’re
contributing to something of lasting value, to improving the experience of the city.
Architects bear a responsibility for that.’ the Netherlands with my grandparents I was already
sketching all those 1950’s bungalows.
ME: What influence does politics have on architecture,
and what will be the creative consequences of the
credit crisis?
RM: Politics plays a decisive role. Politicians create the
preconditions for the way things can be made. They
decide on what will be built and what will not, and ultimately
on how the various commercial interests relate
to one another. Of course we could talk about the credit
crisis for hours. I just hope that in ten year’s time we
won’t be saying ‘those buildings were made during the
credit crisis. The government has a key role here: they
could give the business world an injection now.
One positive effect of the credit crisis could be that
people will now begin creating distinctive, high quality
work. I’m not sure yet which way things will go, but
one thing is certain: everything’s going to come under
increased pressure.
ME: Where will Meyer and Van Schooten be 10 years
from now?
RM: Jeroen and I started out very young. The majority
of architects are only beginning with their most serious
work when they’re well into their forties. Of course,
having worked in the field for so long, I’ll confess that
we may have been guilty of some the sins of youth! But
a great advantage of our long experience is the wealth of
opportunities it creates, meaning we’re able overcome
all kinds of obstacles. A disadvantage might be that
one ends up repeating oneself, but we’re always ready
to take on the challenge of pushing the boundaries.

 
 

Meyer & van Schooten Architecten
 
 
 
 

Meyer & van Schooten Architecten