The Netherlands Off The Shelf

The Netherlands Off The Shelf

The Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) presents, in association with Paradox, the exhibition ‘The Netherlands – Off the shelf’, a documentary project by photographer Hans van der Meer about the ‘typically Dutch’. In his characteristic dry style, Van der Meer shows us the décor against which the lives of many people are played out. If you look closer, you can see the sometimes remarkable complexity of that backdrop.

Small towns, big villages
One can observe a similar development in the centres of many medium-sized cities, such as Boskoop, Raalte and Deurne. Over the years, things have been added, buildings have been given a different function, which is what lends such places their typical character: we come across a 19th-century property occupied by a chemist’s shop next door to an electronics shop from the 1960s with a flat roof; a typical dyke-house from 1922 stands adjacent to a retail bank of recent date, with a library in an 18th-century property standing opposite.

A great deal has been built in the Netherlands over recent decades, especially outside the major cities. The populations of places like Hoofddorp, Hellevoetsluis and Heerhugowaard have increased tenfold. This means that the appearance of the Netherlands has altered radically, and the urban has slowly but surely entered into the countryside. Over the years, the centres of such towns have been redesigned and reconfigured by ambitious architects, entrepreneurs, local councils and property developers. Regulations, common sense, taste, coincidence and ambition have consistently been in conflict with another. The outcome is a fascinating compromise between different approaches and interests. This is highly identifiable, as much as it is interchangeable. ‘The Netherlands – off the shelf’ addresses that mechanism within a culture. With this project, Hans van der Meer shows how the Netherlands currently looks, and implicitly asks how that came about.

Exhibition
The exhibition in the main hall at the NAI is spread over two levels. The open landscape of the upper floor is being used for the large-format photographic works by Hans van der Meer, which hover in an anonymous landscape. On the lower floor, visitors can see sales materials for street furniture and city marketing slogans as tools of ‘city branding’ that reveal the dreams and ambitions of local councils. Street furniture has actually been brought into the museum to make the experience complete. The spatial design is by TomDavid Architecten and the graphic design by Kummer & Herrman.

The Netherlands: then, now and later
The NAI is unveiling this exhibition in a special year: in 2012 it is precisely 100 years since the influential architect J.H.W. Leliman called for the establishment of a museum of architecture. The NAI is focusing attention on the past in the permanent ‘Treasury’ presentation and on the future in ‘Dutchville’, which presents the ideas of inspired visionaries who have elaborated magnificent and ingenious designs into plans, while ‘The Netherlands – off the shelf’ plants the visitor firmly in the present. With this programme for the first quarter of 2012, the NAI is offering a vista of the Dutch identity and thus positioning itself, 100 years later, as a museum for architecture. This discrepancy between dream and reality offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to make the connections over time. Have we made progress? Why do the towns and cities of the Netherlands look the way they do? And what does the future hold in store for the Netherlands?

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