Article: Christopher George
Blurring the lines between art and reality. Rotterdam makes other European cities seem out of synch with modern living.
The idea of a utopian civilization was idealized during the post war years- designed by young architects and town planners. Yet by the late 70s and 80s, society under this structure was falling apart concrete slab by concrete slab. Rotterdam on the other hand, due to an absolute necessity to plough forward, has invented the most ideal, modern utopian city in Europe, or as damn close to this idealism comes anyhow!
One of the key successes of Rotterdam as a city is how it engages with cultural issues, contemporary arts and its inhabitants. When you travel around the city (which is extremely easy on foot, bicycle or public transport), you are constantly confronted with structural objects of art. It almost seems that Rotterdam is littered with them, so much that the lines between art and reality become obscured.
With much of Rotterdam’s architecture emerging from the schools of Brutalism- that is loved and hated in equal measure elsewhere. The buildings have not been condemned for demolition like many places in the rest of Europe; Rotterdam has embraced this period of architectural design and social progression, by entwining it with the contemporary arts and the new emerging architectural designs as the city grows bigger, bolder and more confident about its future.
For example, a simple a public staircase crossing roads, becomes not just a staircase to transport its passengers safely through the city, but also a piece of street art.
The roads passing through underpass merge with the traffic signs, tram wires overhead and the towering buildings are all a canvas. A bench in the shopping centre is a structure of contemporary furniture. Then you walk round a corner to be confronted by a huge sculpture of a Santa Claus balancing a monstrous ‘butt plug’ in one hand, and an unaffected mother chats to her child directly below it.
The urban landscape has allowed its self to become a canvas for arts to emerge within it and on it, with a sense of humour! Buildings with empty walls have been endorsed with murals. This is not uncommon in many grey towns, but the relationship with the art and the soul of these other cities often seems at odds with each other, making the art seem uncomfortable. Not in Rotterdam, where you often question if the building was prepared as a canvas for the actual art work, how ever large or small. You begin to walk the city and question every merging line that passes by your eyes and question; is this art or is it a utility? Believe me, It’s pretty exciting to think on these levels!
This may seem insignificant: Does public art really matter in a city? Well as Rotterdam has proved, it matters a huge amount. It has created a diverse city with an open mind. A thriving youth with an intellectual spirit. This is missing in so many of the satellite cities of post war Europe, or the major new cities that have sprung up over the past 25years, where much of the community feel has been alienated and physically pushed out.
It is not all about the modernity of glass and steel structures, or the wealth and bravado of a city, which makes it metropolitan. It is much more about the general workability from travel, public art, entertainment, and the accessibility to these items for local people to feel part of the environment and culture.
Europe is generally considered a continent of the classics and the typical classic city. All this is vital for our growth as humans with a direct link to our history. But many of these cities are museums in their own right, and we are in vital need of modern areas capable of providing housing, good transport, facilities and communities for a modern world. We have an ever-expanding population who are not able to fit in to the traditional cities, so new structures and areas need to be formed. These forming areas should work with our community socially and also creatively to provide space where we can begin, as Rotterdam has proven, a Modern Utopia.
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