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In search of commitment.


Edited by NAi Publishers. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. 2003. [euro]25

In a sense, the very appearance of this book is a sign of the futility of its mission. The unnamed editors at NAi have commissioned a series of essays, both long and short, from people mainly active in Dutch and Belgian academia or media on the subject of architects' and artists' obligations--their 'commitment', their 'engagement'--to contemporary society. The authors mainly mourn the lack of such commitment, which may or may not have existed during an imagined golden age of Dutch Modernism, dated here generally to somewhere around the mid '60s. Some are cynical, but some make a bold stab at identifying small instigators of change. But I fear they all know that their various contemporary protagonists are for the most part following current fashions, rather than changing public opinion or for that matter 'engaging' with it. If anyone believed that there were designers who significantly challenged today's social conventions, who fought with fire in their heart, then

NAi would be publishing a book about them, instead.

So the tone of the essays is often too general to be either interesting or informative, and not helped, in some cases, by rather a plodding translation into English. There are distinguished exceptions. The first chapter by Rene Boomkens, professor of social and cultural philosophy at Groningen, sets out the broad theme of the book effectively. Architecture critic Hans Ibelings briefly but thoughtfully questions the role and the influence of his profession. Chris Dercon bravely questions the 'customer--or consumer--is always right' attitude to museum display policy. Hilde Heynen, following Tzonis and Lefaivre, plots the descent of visionary architecture into its current status as a lifestyle subsector of a shopping culture. NAi are planning a series of these books: they may make depressing reading.

Book reviews from this and recent issues of The Architectural Review can now be seen on our website at and the books can be ordered online, many at special discount.
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Author:Brittain-Catlin, Timothy
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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