Roemer van Toorn: Universities and schools of architecture help people to become an architect, in the same way you learn to be a lawyer or a doctor. With Wiel Arets as dean the Berlage-Institute was after another kind of teaching. The students who apply at the Berlage-Institute are already practicing architects and come here – after years of frustration being in an office working for other architects – to develop their own agenda. While he stressed the making Wiel also brought in more theoretical reflections. The Institute was furthermore not only providing a service for each individual to develop his or her thesis. We confronted the students with assignments from within the Netherlands. What will be the next step for the Berlage-Institute, according to you Alejandro, as the new dean?

Alejandro Zaera-Polo: I was invited to the Berlage-Institute by Wiel Arets in the very beginning of his term. During those first contacts I met some of the students who were at the Institute during the deanship of Herman Hertzberger, who were still into the system. My impression is that the Hertzberger period was a very exciting time, almost the hippie-period of the Berlage, orgy like … Probably it did not have yet a very clear structure, nor a clear didactic program, but great excitement and very motivated people. Typical heroic period… I think Wiel’s term has been a period of consolidation, both of academic and financial consolidation He has provided a more structured organization and probably a more focused direction to the research in the Institute. I think that what we should aim now is to develop a more special profile that will make the Institute a unique International institution. 
As a Postgraduate Laboratory, the Berlage should find a specificity that distinguishes it from a school that makes it specific in respect to American schools but also in respect to other European postgraduate programs. Obviously the Berlage has already built up an important and worldwide known reputation and network. There are no such institutions in America or Asia. 
The fact that the Berlage-Institute is in Holland – and obviously Holland has been for the last 15 years one of the most interesting places generating new architecture – makes it a very strategic location in the international debate. Maybe this is a kind of optimistic perspective but I believe as the European consolidation advances, industries tend to concentrate in certain regions: automotive industry in Germany, luxury manufacturing in Northern Italy, telecommunications in Scandinavia … Why not to imagine that Rotterdam may become the centre of architectural and urban planning services in Europe, taking advantage of a very well built local, cultural and productive infrastructure? If so, the Berlage may become a crucial part of this infrastructure. The target would be to make the Berlage a European research institution based in the Netherlands, rather than just a local architectural school. 

RvT During Wiel’s period the Berlage-Institute became famous for its urban research, for its architecture critique, bringing cultural studies into the field of architecture, and for its critical brief writing from the perspective of the program of architecture and urbanism. What kind of directions have you in mind with the Berlage-Institute Alejandro? [More... see PDF]

The Berlage Institute from A to Z. Educating the Architect
Conversation with Alejandro Zaera- Polo

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