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Press Release: the Ideas of The Groenmarkt.

20th October 1999.


My Architecture is simple. It consists of three techniques. the first of these is the planning of spaces. Here the Groenmarkt is also very simple (spaces are better simple). It can be divided into seven parts. Two of these are the 16C and 18C sections of the Old Town Hall. Then at the other end of the 'island'-site is the Rotunda. Then, next to the 16C building, is the new circular drum which is the entrance to the Upper floors of the Old Town Hall. Next to the 18C building is a large arch giving entrance to the Goods handling for the whole building and the underground bicycle parking. In between these last three elements are two ranges of shops along Grote Halstraat and Groenmarkt.

This simple plan of spaces took almost two years to create as it was intimately associated with the design of the external appearance of the new elements. It was subject to the over-riding intention to plan the whole block as a single island whose parts would not be distinguished by gigantic, crude, spatial gestures, as with the grey cement building that was demolished, but by the more subtle differences between facades. The development of an Architecture of spatial gesture (which continues in an even more extreme form today) is not a freedom resulting from the abolition of ornament. It is burden imposed, since the 1900's by the total failure to invent a Modern facade architecture.

The second element is the design of 'frames' and the third is the design of the 'pictures' in the Frames. The Frames in Architecture I call by the old name of 'Order'. I do not wish to obtain any spurious authority for the 'Order'. These are not the Greek Orders. Nor do I ever make them of stone. I call them Orders so that people may know that they perform the same function, that is all. My technique is new. The "Working Order" is hollow and filled with machines. In some buildings one walks through my columns. The Order is made of a coloured surface that, whenever the technology allows, is soaked right into the solidity of the material. My pattern and colour is symbolic. It is soaked into the body of the building for ever. It will not peel off, or need re-painting. These are ideas, carried on the medium of Architecture, that have become solid and real, for as long as my buildings stand.

The design of the third element, the Picture inside the framing Orders, is the most intellectually important of all three. This is because it is the most free from the constraints of labour and work (cost and technology). Decoration is cheap and powerful. In every country I have ever built, except America, this 'freedom to speak' has been taken away from me at the last moment. Only in America have I been trusted with the most important Architectural 'discourse' of them all, the 'painting of the pictures', on the floors and walls and ceilings.

Here in the Hague the shopkeeper has taken the pictures and filled my Frames with, ironically, some hugely expensive and intellectually fragile essay on America itself. This is the danger of building 'stages' on which men may act. One must have a Public Stage for Reality to be come into Being and then Amateur Architects and Planners like to climb into them and hold forth.

The answer is not, as is generally done today, to invent an unframed Architecture (made glass and 'pure planes', where 'pictures' are impossible), but to educate and govern would-be Orators. But how could that be done?

But in the end what matters is that the Groenmarkt is built and that it is such a simple way of making cities that anyone can understand how it works. The 'Order' makes a city into a game anyone can play. It simplifies decision-making. This encourages the Amateur. It also allows the Amateur to appreciate the skill of the Professional. If this situation can be accepted then Real Cities can come into being. For then Everyone will know how to imagine them and everyone will know to make them.


John Outram - October 1999

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