ben van berkel interview
original content
apr 08, 2003
ben van berkel interview

ben van berkel
© designboom



we met ben van berkel in milan on april 8, 2003.



what is the best moment of the day?
it is around 12:00 in the night.
sometimes working still, working but also trying to slowly
go to sleep…when I have the time.
but these are the moments when I get my best ideas.



do you listen to the radio?
not much.



what books do you have on your bedside table?
I’m finishing now this crazy writer… what was his name,
… the book has the title ‘platform’, yes – michel houllebecq



a view of the new mercedes benz museum in stuttgart,
germany, project by UN studio, under construction, 2002 – 2006.



do you read design magazines?
oh yeah, I read everything.



where do you get news from? newspapers?
from everything, television, reading, but also listening to the radio
in the car. sometimes… I’m trying to as much as I can connect
myself to whatever I can connect myself to.



do you notice how women are dressing?
do you have any preferences?
yeah, but I’m not particularly only watching women, but I love to
watch people, and I love to watch of course, how they come together,
and how they separate, and how they might be in a highly compressed
situation sometimes, or sometimes be on there own, so I watch people
first of all alot, and of course it is always interesting to see how women,
but also men, how they behave differently then maybe from other to
other in how they dress, how they have their own rituals.
… the way how we dress, almost like how we dress the city in this way,
or how we dress the landscape. this is the way how I look also at
architecture – how can we dress the future?
I’mobsessed about public constructs, public conditions, and how they
separate from private.



mercedes benz museumby UN studio,
a continous single surface, six plateaus themselves are level
with slowly sloping ramps bridging the height difference
between them.



what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing?
I almost wear everything.



do you have any pets?
I have a cat.



when you were a child, what did you want to be?
yes, an architect.
when I was around 10…11, I was maybe aware of that I had the
fascination for constructions. I was interested in bridges, I was
interested in… everything that came from the ground.
I lived in utrecht, in the middle of holland, an area where a lot of
new buildings were coming up, almost every weekend I was
walking along with my fatherand was strongly fascinated,
by every week seeing a structure grow.
and so my interest in architecture grew from my 12 years old until
I was 20.



left: the erasmus bridge, rotterdam, by UN studio, 1990-1996

right: concept for the transfer hall of the masterplan arnhem,
arnhem central, netherlands. project by UN studio,
under construction 1996 – 2007.



where do you work on your designs and projects?
it’s more when I am traveling. I make my notes, and wherever
I do it, if it is in the plane or in bed, I write them down and I sketch
them down. I have a place I sometimes go to as a second home.
actually I’m quite often there, and there I plan and I draw and



when you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with colleagues,
with other designers?
I’m very close to a group of architects from greg lynn, to stan allen,
jesse reiser…foreign office architects, who I communicate with
quite a lot. so … I do believe that we work onl other topics, that we
are all different, but that we have at the same time a common interest.



offices of the masterplan arnhem, arnhem central,
netherlands. project by UN studio,
under construction 2000 – 2004.



describe your style, like a good friend of yours would describe it.
not so easily to dress to one style…
I’ve a few topics where I’m highly interested in, and that is
organizations – the way how a building is structured together –
then in geometry – the way how let’s say a building is used -
not in the classical sense of function, but very much in the idea of
how it gives the people an atmosphere to function, so how can
we stretch utilities in the building.



do you think there is an evolution from the begining of your work
until now, in your thoughts, in your forms?
if you look at the work from the beginning of the nineties or the
late 80’s, there isn’t a language to be found between lines,
curved lines, and asymmetrical curved lines, and straight lines, …
I was very much interested in the phenomenon of the line,
and also organization still. that was always there.
but if you look at the work right now, which is far more coherent,
lines are going endless, so there is no kind of line that stops somewhere,
there are no dead ends in my buildings.
this is what I’m doing right now, try to make my projects endless.
to create a bigger kind of capacity of continuity in them.



left: ‘living tomorrow amsterdam’, exhibition project by UN studio,
under construction 2000 – 2003

right: ‘living tomorrow amsterdam’ future oriented living- and working
concepts. the basic idea of this design is based on the combination of an integrated demonstration environment,
an event platform and a corporate image instrument.



which project has given you the most satisfaction?
it changes every week.
sometimes I think that it is the ‘moebius’ house, sometimes I think it
is the ‘erasmus bridge’, sometimes I go back to elder prrojects
because they have a particular kind of refinement that I still want to
introduce in my work, so I always experiment with my own memory.



is there any designer and/or architect, you appreciate a lot?
oh yeah, but only in certain aspects of their work,
(I have no kind of hero).
I like for instance the city opera of jorn utzon.
then I like very much the paintings of le corbusier.
I don’t like his buildings, but I love his paintings, and…
I learned a lot from hating gaudi’s sagrada familia and
mies van der rohe, because I think he is the most overestimated
architect you can imagine.
he was too repetitive. he was not an inventor.
he was an inventor on one detail and that’s it.
there is a younger generation of architects coming,
who are very interesting.



left: office block almere,
the outer skin expresses urbanity and a degree of closeness of the units. the use of metal, with recessed window strips emphasises the large scale of the urban environment. the inner area adjacent to the park is
transparent and light so as to contrast with the outside.

center: la defense, offices almere, project by UN studio,
under construction 1999 – 2004

right: alessi tea & coffee towers by UN Studio, 2003



what are you afraid of regarding the future ?
I’m afraid of war, I mean right now, what is happening in iraq,
and the whole war against terrorism I think is scary, simply because
I do believe that in order to solve solutions in this aggressive
attitude is for me something that expands as a disease.
I mean what is terrorism, maybe we should first analyze it, before
we attack it. and after you have analyzed it maybe there are other
ways to attack it then doing it by war, because terrorists are so clever
in how they use their attacks, they attack in a different way,
maybe a more contemporary way.
they have another attitude so we should not attack it in a conventional
traditional manner as we do it right now.

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