SPARKSPEAK – AFAINA DE JONG
In our SPARKSPEAK series we interview Sparks, who are the innovators, front-runners, early adopters and trailblazers. Their vision shows the way forward and we love to talk to them to deepen our trend research. This week we turn our gaze, once again towards Afaina de Jong. For this project, her studio AFARAI joined forces with two interns from the TU Delft. Together they created an exhibition which explores the potential and the relevance of monumental buildings in the twenty-first century. This theme is explored by taking the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Amsterdam as the subject.
A young creative hub, a really old church and the Red Light District. How’s it all connected?
Our office in the Red Light disstrict of Amsterdam is directly opposite the Old Church, so I’ve been secretly observing it for years. I was fascinated by the fact that pedestrians often asked me “where’s the old church” while they were in fact standing literally next to it. Over the years, layers of houses, offices and all sorts of other stories have formed around the church, completey encapsulating it. We started researching how this has developed over the centuries. When is a building done with growing and evolving?, we wondered.
Why bother studying an old building as opposed to creating a new one?
Should we really have to continue building new things? Look at all the empty spaces just standing around. When is it enough? Besides, I find old buildings very interesting, because people start adding things to them. I see all those layers as a kind of storyline, left behind by people. Modern architecture is created by just one person. One (st)architect with one vision. That’s it. Old buildings are created by more people, in some cases over several generations.
How was it to work with a listed building?
We were looking for a way in which we could be a mediator between what the building is and what it potentially could be. For example, we created an installation of mirrors which was standing on a flat roof to create as little touch as possible.
What about all the other listed architectural dinosaurs?
For many people the church has lost its function as a place to come together and be spiritual. Churches serve public functions or as workspaces. MARE for example, is also based in a church and I find that amazing. Modern is entwined with the old, giving the building much more value – by simply adding a new era to it. I understand that some people want to keep things as they are, but sometimes it’s just interesting if you can make that combination in a beautiful way. That two things can co-exist, just in the same way that my office is next to the prostitutes.
Was this some kind of underlying driver for you, that trend that you saw?
I’ve always been involved in old buildings. Before this, I created a Mini Mall for young entrepreneurs in an old train station in Rotterdam. And from the Westergasfabriekterrein I made a theater hall. So yeah, I just have a love for old buildings. With some listed buildings you are never allowed to change anything. I think often that the power is to lift those buildings into this century by just adding something contemporary. I think it’s good to have some restrictions and institutions which protect some old buildings. But I think we should be open to positive innovation.
Your exposition is called The Building Speaks. What is it saying?
A lot of people talk about the Old Church, what it should be and what it is. But I think the building itself already says it. The Old Church has a lot of faces; for some people it is a house, for others to come for spiritual reasons, for others to see an exhibition. It’s just very diverse, in terms of function and time-wise. To me, it’s a time document of Amsterdam .