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Winy Maas at Wickberg Lectures 2014: Never Stop!

“The Helsinki Guggenheim competition is insane!”, wailed Winy Maas when showing his calculations of jury duty with 1,715 entries and an exceptionally tight schedule. Maas, the director and founding partner of the epic MVRDV office, made his keynote speech at the 10th Nils Erik Wickberg Lectures at Dipoli, Espoo. Addressing a full house, he roused the audience with a direct question: how much value are we putting on new art and architecture?

Winy Maas at the Wickberg Lectures 2014 at Dipoli, Espoo.
Winy Maas at the Wickberg Lectures 2014 at Dipoli, Espoo.

The provocative question framed the fundamental proposition set by professor Trevor Harris, chair of this year’s event. Do we need more fantasies, do we need more and more design and art, or should we finally counteract the status quo and reorientate the whole industry by inventing its future anew?

It is my conviction that the current state of development within the Creative Arts is in dire need of a serious and long overdue rethink about the directions we have been engaged in recently. The current state of the planet requires that we need to urgently address the very nature of our creative output(…) Nothing is easier than ignoring reality, especially when it hurts.
— Trevor Harris, chair of Wickberg Lectures 2014

Maas’s vigorous and spirited presentation embraced the existing culture with a few simple but sharp observations. Retro architecture is more popular than ever; the plague of copycat architecture mars the idea of originality; icons spoil the world and treat architecture like a hairdresser; design magazines such as Dezeen or Wallpaper* publish images of small, individual houses set in pristine landscapes while the increasing majority lives in multi-storey metropolitan housing blocks. “You want something new, and you do something from the past”, Maas summarised the existing mindset.

Maas discussed his provocative theory of contemporary architecture from the viewpoint of his recent projects both at MVRDV and at The Why Factory, a think-tank and research institute operated at Delft University of Technology. His colourful array of examples ranged from the Market Hall in Rotterdam to the Peruri 88 tower in Jakarta, and from the Glass Farm in Schijndel to the Balancing Barn in Suffolk, UK. When his architecture was examined against the backdrop of student projects such as the lego models of parametric variation in high-rise building, or the adaptive, mouldable high-tech constructions of the Transformer project carried out at TU Delft, the audience was truly impressed by the profilic career of Winy Maas and the power of architecture to act as a catalyst in the hands of creative minds. “Leadership is still needed”, Maas reminded his audience and concluded with some far-reaching wisdom: “Architecture of today is urbanism. What’s next? How far can you go? Buildings can act as activators. Never stop.”

The audience is enjoying Maas's speech.
The audience is enjoying Winy Maas’s keynote speech at the Dipoli auditorium.

The Wickberg Lectures 2014 had chosen a cryptic theme Newtopias which referred to a new, non-existing place-to-be of the arts. The well-composed programme and the thought-provoking speakers – such as landscape architect Malin Blomqvist, architect Martti Kalliala and professors Aino Niskanen, Pirjo HirvonenTimo Salli and Helena Sederholm from Aalto University, School of Art, Design and Architecture – together with a Learning Cafe elaborating utopias from various viewpoints, encouraged the audience to re-examine their personal comfort zones when it comes to resistance and reshuffle. Trevor Harris worded the initiative brilliantly: “Maybe, just maybe, as a result we might be better equipped for using these new ‘Outopias’ to help and inspire us to create ‘Eutopias’, the Greek word for Good Places.”