“Education, memory and architecture” – By Herman van Bergeijk

What part of our history is reinvented and under rug swept?

What part of our memory is selective and tends to forget?

What’s with this distance it seems so obvious?

– Alanis Morissette

Many books have been written on the value of history for one’s being and it has little sense to enter in that endless discussion. Thanks to memory we can relate to the world and are able to perceive it in all its amplitude. Yet, memory also has an internal organization and is actively constructed: we choose what we want to remember. Besides: everything has its history, even the news.

As I remember, I construct my memory. And from my memory, I make my past. From my own past, I attempt to make the leap forward through the present towards the near future. But if everything could so easily be grasped as a linear process, a singular line spanning from past to present, how dull life would be. One could follow Michel de Montaigne and state that life is nothing more than a preparation for death. Death enters life usually at the end, but by manipulating our memory, we can give it an impor- tance already in an earlier state. The Dutch seem to be masters of that. For them the past is a dead and worthless nuisance and memory is used only for the exploitation of skills and the reflection on ‘craft’. Thus the attention has been shifted towards the maker, the producer, while the object as a vehicle of a specific kind of knowledge, as a treasury and stronghold, is left behind. The feeble forecast is everything. And yet, only objects can carry know- ledge further than the lifespan of a mortal being. Even DNA is nothing more than a building block of a personality that can be studied as an object. Every little thing can be a carrier of memory and a token of the past, of a happening that will not reoccur. But beware; there is no paradise to be regained, no lost time to be researched; the only refuge is in our fantasy, our imagination and … our memory. In other words, the past is never our own but we have to appropriate it through our own subjective rules. It has to be made. Thus history is more than a repository of reminiscences, a grab bag of illustrative models, an reservoir of abstract knowledge but is and becomes an intrinsic part of our being, of the construction of ourselves.

In 2008, a building burned down. I was present. It has wondered me then and it still wonders me today how devastating a small fire can become and how impotent a fire department can react. Hardly any traces are witness to the existence and to the event. It was considered nothing more than a temporarily phase of a certain kind of education. From the ruins, almost nothing was retrieved. Not even the hard euros in my desk survived. The demolis- hers must have had a blast! But with the removal of the building’s traces, the history too that the object had embodied and had to protect was gone. Teaching, designing and projecting could have a fresh start! Nowadays, reinventing the wheel seems to be a synonym for originality; no burdens from a past but a study heads up towards the future. Despite that some hillbillies had something to say about the old building – words that mostly were signs of their ignorance and a cheap prayer for the future – calls for a new building were soon silenced and an old building was transformed under the guidance of untruthful Scheheraza- des intro a grotesque potpourri of architectural trouvés. Learning and bill boarding finally met.

It is certainly unfair to question the pillars of our educational system! Besides, they are as obvious as the greediness of our banking world and the righteousness of our constitutional judiciary. They belong to an evolutionary view, to the belief that the survival of the fittest always will show the road forward. Change and preservation do not go hand in hand but insult each other at every occasion. Like construction and destruction are two sides of the medal. Where does that leave memory? Where have all the drawings from the past gone? Where are the photographs, the plaster models that were once intrinsic parts of inscribing, chiselling knowledge in the brains of the youngster clan? Does the curriculum take into account that alongside the future there will always be a past and that that past will eventually incorporate all futures?

Reinventing the wheel seems to be a synonym for originality; no burdens from a past but a study heads up towards the future.

Does building technology or real estate have a past, or are they just a preparation pur sang for the immediate future, for the labour market, for the last trip to Tulsa? As long as such questions are not raised, we will meander through the labyrinths of knowledge to find ourselves every time in the same place without recognizing it, without being able and capable of acknowledging our existence as something passing away. Every school that wants to be an educational institution has to deal with this. Just look at the ETH, at Harvard, at MIT or at other schools who are maybe not blessed with so much money and history. They have collected, studied and presented their past. They all have archives – Delft has zip… Where does that leave us?

Let us acclaim that Delft is the absolute centre! Feed on that memory, your memory, the memory you own. Recollect and think. Consider why your brain is floating above your feet and not the other way around. Know the centre not by looking at your belly button but by investigating all potentialities and mapping the roads of the past towards a future. Or else become a city on the edge – in the periphery of vagueness! Like every other school of architecture, Delft too should collect material and visualize its line of descent in an intellectual fashion. It should be, as the French historian Pierre Nora once wrote, un lieux de mémoire, a place between future, memory and history instead of an increasingly empty institution of pseudo-scientific management. It should orient itself towards an edifying education instead of becoming a slick, financially sound factory for ill-prepared architects. Maybe you can help? Don’t ask what the school can do for you, but what you can do for the school. Be part of it, in the future and therefore in the past and vice versa. Help and lay the foundations.

Herman van Bergeijk 

2 Responses to ““Education, memory and architecture” – By Herman van Bergeijk”
  1. i have been having trouble to publish tags, given
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