Monday, February 17, 2014

Polder Method

By Michelle Harris

I stumbled across the term ‘polder method’ while reading, ‘ False Flat: Why Dutch Design is so Good,’ by Aaron Betsky. The word ‘polder’ caught my attention. The author used ‘polder’ in a manner that implied, ‘of course of you know,’ but I did not! This curious word led to a discovery of how the Dutch reclaimed land from the sea. They drained the marshy soil to cultivate land known as a polder. This term has become more broadly used as a means of economic repurposing by the Dutch Government. Overall, the polder method has a mixed legacy. The polder method can lead to endless debate and make government planning even slower. On the other hand, it ensures that the process is wholly democratic.

The polder method drained the economic and social stagnation of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The polder method mitigated subsidies generated off of trade. Now there is a complex network of subsidies for the sick, the unemployed or artists, for example. This intricate system of targeted subsidies is the mechanism that reversed the sinking Dutch economy. As Betsky states, ‘The public face of cultural subsidies is design.’  Dutch design unites communities both small and larger via the polder method.

One buildings that stands as a polder for international architecture is ARCAM by Rene van Zuuk. ARCAM stands for Architecture Center Amsterdam. This organization is funded in part by government subsidies. The building is located on the edge of the River IJ. The building successful reflects the context of the river in its ultra-modern design. The contrast is in the context. There are many traditional historic structures that surround ARCAM.

In some ways this facility works to create land for future creative architectural influences to integrate into the urban fabric.
ARCAM was designed with several limiting factors. The street facade was required to ensure privacy to the occupants. The canal facing façade was required to be unimposing to the surrounding traditional buildings. A few other limiting factors were the former structure’s foundation. The history and the context informed the curvy wrapping rooflines. The facility itself is a melting pot of architectural information for tourists and professionals alike. The website offers English and Dutch versions of resources and events. Check out the website’s publications to get an appreciation for the diverse clientele that use ARCAM. In many ways this design’s diversity is a mass of information and culture that form a base for the progress of architecture.
By representing the international design scene, ARCAM, represents idealistically the whole as a small. This is a function of the polder method. Another part of the polder method is that nobody can leave the table negotiations until a consensus is reached. Even as the creative growth becomes painful, the pain is managed by the flow of subsidies. The Dutch use the polder method to democratically enforce, ‘The most important task of a society, which is the arrangement that most invisible of physical attributes, space’. Architecture manifested through the idea of ARCAM is a polder for the international community to grow creatively.

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