Richard Florida and the Biennale in Maastricht

Last week brought us the Biennale of Redevelopment in Maastricht, Netherlands. The program started some weeks ago in Amsterdam with lectures and the kick off meetings of several studios where different projects of redevelopment were discussed. It ended this week in Maastricht with an interesting program of lectures and visits. See their website at http://www.biennalemaastricht.nl/

I went to the meeting in Amsterdam as a speaker and wanted to go to the meeting in Maastricht as a member of the audience.  It is a long train ride, two and a half hours from Amsterdam to Maastricht. The main reason for me to travel there was to listen to and catch up with Richard Florida. But Maastricht also hosts several very interesting new projects and it gave me a chance to see at least one of them on Friday.

I arrived in Maastricht Thursday evening. This was announced as a dinner meeting where we would be able to discuss with others. The speeches that were held were very good. Lots of what was said was inspiring. Florida is a wonderful speaker, he is able to drag the audience into his story and deliver his arguments in a very clear way. It is not that he told many new things. For those who follow him and have read his books we know most of the arguments. But the way he delivers his message and the anecdotes that he chooses make it a real treat every time again to sit in the audience and listen to that message.  I taped his speech. In the next weeks I want to try to analyze his arguments a bit more and see what we here in the Netherlands can learn from it.

So, even though the Thursday evening was quite interesting, I felt more doubt during Friday. The thing is, we can sit together at events and listen to others many times but it is a very linear thing to do. The way we meet is almost always traditional. The speakers take too much time, the schedule is always tight, and there is almost no possibility for the audience to participate. It is very challenging to have a truly creative meeting where the audience can participate and where there can be a real exchange of ideas. Isn’t that what it should be all about? In our emerging new economy exchanging ideas will again be the driving force. The venue, the program, the other guests, the possibility to exchange ideas, it all adds up to the quality of an event like this. In Maastricht the possibilities to discuss with the other members of the audience were limited at least in the parts that I attended.

Friday morning the event started relatively late, which made it possible to explore a bit of Maastricht during the night. We went to the lounge bar of the Kruisheren hotel, a new design hotel in the centre of Maastricht, a nice example of beautiful adaptive reuse: a perfect place to talk till late at night about the future of redevelopment.

Friday started with an interview between Richard Florida and Ester Agricola. That was a perfect choice; her questions were to the point. Florida was articulating something that sounded like a program for a non-existing political movement.

After that we came to what should have been the core of the Maastricht conference, four presentations on transformation projects. After hearing that I felt depressed. There is this enormous mistake that the architect should be in the centre of a redevelopment project. Here we were listening to three architects and one developer who talked about architecture. And although architects are nice people and know a lot, they always need a client. We here in the Netherlands have some of the best architects and city planners in the world. They plan and build everywhere. But what we miss is the good clients, the new developers, the new building corporations, and the new builders. It is always very interesting to see that an architect has built a wall around a farm or created a public space on a big street, what I am interested in is who was the client, what was the program, which questions had to be answered and how did the architect help to resolve them.

The four presentations were interesting but not interesting enough. It never became clear why we were looking at these plans. And they all had too many slides.

I joined the visit to the new A2 project that Maastricht is working on. A 2,5 kilometre stretch of motorway will be put underground in order to create new connections between very separated parts of the city. The project is needed to create a much more liveable and sustainable city. But it has partly to be paid form development that will probably never occur. So it will be very interesting to see how the city and the building consortium are going to handle that question during the next fifteen years.

Maastricht was the first in what should be a series of biennales on redevelopment. I have my doubts if this is the best way to stimulate redevelopment.  The number of visitors showed that there is a big need to learn and to discuss. I am very curious about the results of the different workshops but didn’t see them presented yet.

What we are looking for is a new development model to rebuild our cities as Richard Florida put it.  We no longer need master plans that will never be built. We urgently need expeditions, strategies, program and processes. The Maastricht biennale certainly was an important step. We certainly cannot wait another two years to make the next step. We will have to act a bit faster!

One thought on “Richard Florida and the Biennale in Maastricht

  1. mainly right. plus the venue wasn’t too stimulating to compensate for the program’s lack of reaction/contact. would have liked to have been presented the results of the ateliers instead of the excursion (mine to Aachen wasn’t too well planned). but I was inspired by the core of the messages of ‘young’ belgian and dutch architects; between the slides they showed what creativity can be generated by re-use problems. british brother bloxham should have explored only one of his projects with the questions you formulate.
    next time: leave all formality and ‘hohes vieh’; get to the core

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