Community-Building on the Roeterseiland
It seems almost centuries ago that we took steps on ‘Roeters’. A quick sprint from Weesperplein to your IPRes seminar, or during exam weeks looking for a spot that cannot be found. Whether you can be found on the island much or less often, it could hardly have escaped you that for a few months there was a large white sea container next to CREA and the J / K building. The attentive beer drinker could have even noticed that two people actually lived in it, accompanied by a sweet dog. It were the architects Remy Kroese and Marlies Vermeulen who, together with their dog Peer, slept on the Roeterseiland on behalf of the UvA to map out what is going on in and around the buildings on the Nieuwe Achtergracht. The architects were sent out with questions such as “does the Roeterseiland Campus still function as intended after its inauguration?” and "what opportunities are there for the campus?" and although the research is officially still ongoing, and the results by corona and all online lectures can probably go directly from printer to trash, the answers are obvious: students mainly come to Roeterseiland to consume lectures, sandwiches, electricity and study places.
It is now about ten years ago that plans were made for the move and about five years ago that the Political Science department was actually transferred from the city center to beautiful East. The ‘langstudeerders’ among us may remember it. Many things have changed in these five years. Take, for example, internationalization, which has had a major impact on the student population. But the university as a place has also drastically changed. Without getting nostalgic, it is crystal clear that the Roeterseiland as a campus lends itself well to contemporary individualism: quickly to your tutorial, scoring a wrap during the break, earphones in the LLC study factory afterwards and at least seven floors distance between students and teachers. The gap between teacher and student has widened, and the REC is pre-eminently a place where gatherings are discouraged, architecture prize my ass. If you happen to come across a teacher in the hallways (who has been teaching for more than five years, which has almost become unique also), ask him or her about this. You’ll be amazed at the agreeing answer.
It is time as students to think for ourselves about the design of the academic environment and the physical role that the university building plays in the collective idea of the academic community. Interaction between students and teachers stands or falls with the cooperative mindset of two groups, you guessed it: students and teachers.
It is actually very strange, weird and typical for the way of thinking of the UvA that a hip external architectural firm has to find answers to questions that are so fundamental to being a student. The architects Kroese and Vermeulen were previously with their cabin in the Frisian village of Ulrum, a flat in the suburbs of the always pleasant Kerkrade and the small French Saint-Omer: so diverse and totally irrelevant environments for the UvA. Outsourcing atmosphere creation at the university to small businesses is something that must stop. Dearhunter's research is called “Roeterseiland narratives”, but how useful is the story of an architect who was first in Friesland and France and who is hired on behalf of the ‘huisvestingsontwikkelingen’ department? You, students, make the narratives! All conversations, debates, arguments and romances that take place within the chemically yellow or green walls: these are the Roeterseiland narratives. Those few students who have a chat after class with their 7 euros beet falafel, instead of immediately getting home by swapp bike. The study associations that try to pump humanity and joy into the building in their tucked away rooms, often against all knowledge, because every decoration is taken away by facility services the same day. I once hung a poster in the elevator of an education-related event from Machiavelli, the same afternoon I received an angry email on my student mail threatening me to pay a fine. Furthermore, I try to take my grandfather and grandmother to the REC at least once a year because the university should not only be a place where students with airpods take 2,80 costing coffees from a machine, but because of the crowds and the clinical character nowadays we prefer to find a cafe nearby.
A Dearhunter announcement poster says they are going to make "alternative maps", but the research they did involves only open doors and already-known obvious problems. For example, they argue that “the exact outer boundary of the campus is not unambiguous and depends on the perspective you take”, “the canteen is a hybrid space that mainly students use for different purposes” and that when the research were carried out in the summer, this had yielded other results”. All of this are crosses that even the strikers of FC Twente would’ve scored. Kroese: "It is a relatively new way of conducting research and shows that anthropological research does not always have to end in text or film." But what good is a map that shows what everyone already knows?
In addition, six of the eleven points in their ‘alternative map’ have to do with local residents and one has been specially designed for the chimney, the chimney! I can't imagine anyone outside of these two architects ever even actively thinking about the role a chimney plays or should play on an academic campus. A quick calculation shows that the streets around the campus have about three hundred local residents, a pittance compared to the tens of thousands of students at the faculties that are housed there. Nevertheless, the interviews with the architects in Folia and Parool show that they almost only spoke to local residents, especially people who also have a dog that sometimes runs around on the little lawn.
All this symbolizes the top-down manufacturability idea of the UvA management, who want a ‘reboot’ of the campus, without actively involving students. Two architects who come to solve the problems for a 'client' UvA in a 'hunting period' of three months, that is not how it works.
In fact, nothing has been achieved, because the architects themselves indicate that they actually only worked well with the anthropology department, and that they did not or could not set foot in other departments, such as the political science one. In addition, in three months they didn’t manage to find one single student willing to spend the night in the white bunker and tell his or her story. Tucked away somewhere at the bottom of the business' site is that you could sign up using an answer form to talk to, a classic example of sham speech.
From now on, let's just do it ourselves: think about the correct modus operandi of a university. Architect Kroese: “we recommend that you take a closer look at the maps and immerse yourself in the rich, chaotic layered reality that Roeterseiland is actually”. My advice: Just keep your eyes open, your airpods out and talk to each other.