Groningen reinforcement assignment requires more imagination and vision

On 20 March during the KNAW Earthquake-Resistant Buildings symposium Jeroen de Willigen argued for the need for more imagination and vision in the reinforcement assignment:

“The earthquakes in the gas extraction area have had a big impact on the quality of life and the future prospects of this attractive and pleasant part of the Netherlands. Naturally, the first response from residents and administrators was that all the buildings should be repaired and reinforced as if there had been no earthquakes, or as if they had had no influence on the quality of life or safety.

In the Japanese art of Kintsugi, cracked or broken porcelain is repaired with gold lacquer. Highlighting the crack or breakage renders pieces even more beautiful and enhances their value when compared with their perfect peers.

Because no designers were involved in the earthquake assignment, the reinforced buildings have no functional or aesthetic added value when compared to the original situation. Many architects, inspired by the assignment and with a sense of social commitment, drew up plans and sketched principles in order to illustrate the added potential of the damaged buildings. Unfortunately, these architects were unable to influence the reinforcement process. The assignment appears to be entirely in the hands of engineers and contractors. Naturally, the new housing is safe, and also energy-efficient, but this gigantic operation should also be used to develop a new and distinctive architectural vocabulary. This could be applied to strengthen the earthquake zone’s identity and the exceptional conditions in the area that distinguish it from other regions.

But designs that simply address the reinforcement assignment on a building level will not achieve this. They may of course contribute to a new identity, but not to a new future. There are also a number of other fundamental issues in the area: the future of agriculture, demographic developments, the economic perspective and, of course, the transition to renewable energy.  All the dynamics and investments in the earthquake zone should be deployed to contribute to the entire perspective for the region. That perspective should be sketched in a large plan. A plan with ambition, one that brings hope and optimism, without knowing exactly what the future may bring. A plan interlinking all the issues confronting the area. A plan that ensures support and resources.”

Jeroen de Willigen (1968), Director De Zwarte Hond and Groningen city architect

Download the entire speech here.