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Indepth Arts News:

"Conversation Pits and Cul-de-sacs: Dutch Architecture in the 1970s"
2004-06-19 until 2004-10-03
Netherlands Architecture Institute
Rotterdam, , NL Netherlands

Many Dutch people will still recall the 'cul-de-sac', the 'conversation pit' or the combination of orange, brown and purple. But buildings such as the Centraal Beheer by Hertzberger, the Kasbah by Piet Blom and urban planning projects by Ben Loerakker and Paul de Ley are also typical of Dutch architecture of the 1970s. The NAI exhibition 'Conversation Pits and Cul-de-Sacs' shows material from the NAI's own collection which will be supplemented both with loans from architects and with art works, films and photographs from other collections. A typical 1970s living room and a real sunken seating area will give an impression of how the interiors of the period looked.

The 1970s witnessed enormous change. The decade began with flower power and ended with disco and punk. The optimism of the revolutions of 1968 had given way by 1980 to nihilism and slogans such as 'no future'. Some people view the 1970s as a period when pluriformity was possible in all areas and opened up new perspectives. For others it was a period of endless talk and inconclusive meetings. For some people the 1970s were hip and trendy, for others they were dogmatic and uncompromising. One thing is certain, the developments of the 1970s brought definitive changes in the Netherlands. Anarchistic forms of participation made way for legislative norms, and multicultural society and the welfare state acquired their definitive forms.

From 1970 onwards design became a social issue, and concepts such as socialization and urbanity were redefined. In contrast to the situation in the 1950s and 1960s, urban planning became subordinated to architecture. Straight lines made way for diagonals, architects converted en masse to the pitched roof, the brick industry had its heyday and floor plans became increasingly whimsical. All of this was the result of a growing dissatisfaction with the quality of the architecture and town planning of the period of post-war reconstruction. At the beginning of the 1960s there was still considerable appreciation for the new housing estates that had been built on the peripheries of the large cities. However, by the end of the decade growing criticisms were translated into protest and calls for change.

The changes of the 1970s did not produce a dominant movement or school, but rather a diversity of approaches. Many small groups sprang up, each with their own character: these groupings argued for new and varied forms, human scale, a renewed appreciation of old cities, and the use of prefabricated elements for a flexible floor plan. This pluriformity means that the 1970s can probably be considered the most eclectic decade of the twentieth century. Strangely enough, the lack of a dominant movement nonetheless produced a typical, recognizable 1970s architecture and town planning.

The exhibition, designed by NL Architects, and accompanying publication focus on the peculiarities of architecture and town planning in the Netherlands in the 1970s and deal with themes such as pluriformity, polarization, socialization and the lack of a dominant theoretical discourse. Particular attention will be paid to the social issues that shaped the architectural environment in this decade more than in any other. The broader creative context will be examined through the inclusion of photography, the visual arts, film, television, interiors, graphics and industrial design. The book will be published by NAi Publishers.

Conversation Pit - from 'Het grote handboek voor beter wonen' (Big manual for better living), 1977

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