Interview Katía Truijen

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Date: 13/10/2017

Location: Het Nieuwe Instituut (HNI), Rotterdam


  • Katía Truijen (researcher at HNI) - K
  • Angeliki Diakrousi (student PZI) - A
  • Joca van der Horst (student PZI) - J


Katia: I am working on the publication “Architecture of Appropriation” now. And also, we are working on a small exhibition in Sao Paulo, because there is an architecture Biennale there in November. What it’s interesting is that we have been showing part of the project here in an exhibition, and also programme examples from Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. How architects have been working with squatters. We screened a movie and now it’s really nice that we can also bring the project there, in the context of Sao Paolo. And also collaborate with practitioners there.

Angeliki: And in Sao Paulo, is it an institution or its just independent architects?

K: It's the architecture biennale, but this year the curator decided that he wants to involve citizens more than only just architects, like everyone is involved in the city and the urban environment. So, part of the programme is also happening really in the city, in squats or former squats. Also, the housing movements are involved. So, we will present the project in a squat and also work with the community there.

K: So, you’re working on the AA now?

A: We have a parallel archive to the AA, to trigger people to come and discuss about this. We still looking for a title. We want to categorize, based on the squatters movement, so we have different material from the city archive, police reports, AA, posters, interviews from people that live inside, researchers outside and how they are connected to that (PG). So we try to arrange this material and also we are interested in the architectural drawings or diagrams that show the possible, imaginational scenarios of PG.

K: Ah, yes. There were future plans also. And what is interesting about PG is that it’s a community for 38 years now, and within this very long history there have always been different communities also proposing future plans and working with different institutions. There is one document that people still refer to. Quite often, it’s like the 'toekomst-visie', the future vision of PG. And this is also when they made this model that you can still find. The model of PG in PG, I think it’s on the 1st floor.

A: You mean as an archive there?

K: Ah, well there is this archive room that you probably saw, and within this archive we also found together with the residents, Giulia, this vision document.

A: We found a drawing from the municipality. They were planning to make a red light district area around PG. So it was interesting to see this empty area. We thought maybe you know more about this plan.

K: You mean not only from the residents but also the plans for the neighbourhood. I think there was a big protest in the 80s, a huge movement protesting for other rights, and I think people joined a bigger protest and then the PG was squatted. We found the original documents, the plans of PG and nothing else.

Joca: Maybe let's have an introduction because that was part of the start. Can you tell us more about the work you do in HNI?

K: Yeah, I work at the research department of the HNI. We work basically with different time skills, so sometimes we propose speakers that are working in issues that are very relevant to us, in the field of design, architecture design, digital culture which is the core issue. Sometimes we organise seminars, but also we have a fellowship in which invites practitioners and researchers to do a research proposal for a fellowship. But we also have longer research projects which evolve over time. There are two projects that we are currently working on, one is "Architecture of Appropriation". The project has two aims, started with two questions. One was really from the perspective of the archive that you see behind you, which is the archive for Dutch architecture and planning. We were looking at what is actually preserved as Dutch urban history and what is in the archive. For instance, we found that only 16 of 600 archives are female architects, but also most of them are from architectural offices. And of course there is other agents in the city that have produced architecture and transformed the city the past decades. So, we found is very important to also address collective forms of architecture, also because they have played big role in the transformation of the city, the squatting. So we were looking at how this was already part of the archive. So, we worked also with the archivist to see what is already there, but also how we could maybe document and maybe, in the end, archive also squatting as a spatial, architectural practice. I mean, there are archives about squatting which exist in the beautiful institute for social history in Amsterdam. Its called "Het Staats Archief" and started as a private archive together with the institute for social history. It’s a beautiful archive with posters, but also notes that explain the protocols of squatters, and that really explains the history, mostly from a social, historical perspective. There is also literature on squatting and how it transformed the city. We didn’t see so much research on squatting as an architectural practice, and about their ideas about collective living, about the right to buy the property. How to develop alternatives on market oriented housing policies. So we thought it was important to look at case studies, but not maybe the most canonical squats, that maybe have been legalised or that most people know, but try to come up with a series of case studies that will complement each other in a way, like how the communities live together there, or all the case studies have a different status, so some of them have been legalized, some of them are still squats, some of them have actually been evicted since we have presented an exhibition there. And also we try to reflect on our role as an institute. What it means to present these criminalized practices. In all cases we closely work together with the communities' spaces, when it is very evident that the residents really made an effort to preserve the building, because the owner was completely neglecting or demolishing even the building from inside out. We've tried even to send them a letter, to support them sometimes. But also, from an architectural point of view, to see how they contribute to the city. Because since 2010 squatting has been banned, has become an illegal practice. Before, it was tolerated. But it's still happening. So, this was also important for us to make visible that, one one hand, it is forbidden but it is still happening and, at the same time, we see that these kind of spaces are still under pressure, that are collectively organised, are not maybe planned from the beginning. So, for instance the coming weekend there is the anniversary of "ADM" festival and community. They call themselves a microsociety and they are almost able to completely sustain themselves, like families grew up there and they exist for 20 years now but unfortunately, in February they will have to leave and it's still in process. So, yeah the question of property and speculations is also important.

A: How do you archive squatting as an architectural practice? What documents do you use, what content, what methods?

K: Maybe to explain a bit how we work. So, we are sort of a research collective that has been expanded over the last years. We've started more than a year ago. The research is directed by Marina Otero. Together with Renee Buur? who is a researcher but also has been active in the squatting movement, Martin "...”, who is researcher in landscape and interior, so in projects related to architecture. We've set up this collective that has expanded with other researchers, architects, historians and communities of places we want to investigate. So, before archiving, we thought it is important to find out how to document the spatial practice. Over the past year, we've sort of setting up a methodology that we would also like to explain in the publication that we are working on now. So, first we did research on spaces that still exist, and you can visit, either legalized or not. We've talked to the communities to see if they are interested in collaborating with us. And last year we selected five case studies and now we are adding a few more in other parts of the country, and together with a group of architecture students from Eindhoven, but also with a photographer we visited the spaces. And before visiting, we were looking in the existing archives, city archive but also police records, the institute of social history, to see what is already known. We also brought the original plans of the space, the actual architectural drawings that were sometimes really old. Some of the buildings were monuments. So, then we visited these places and talked with the communities. We were very interested in how they make spatial interventions, how they transform the space for collective activities, how they deal with private and public, or communal spaces, what their relation to the neighborhood was, how they organise themselves. For instance, in PG we made a graph or a drawing on how they organise themselves...

A: Like a diagram... K: Yes, so in the case of PG it is very interesting because they are a community of 30 residents, but they have working groups, they have meetings, like new people people meetings. Of course, the house meetings are quite important, also the future group that doesn’t always comes together. Also, it is interesting to see that these forms of organising are also transforming all the time... A: Temporary.

K: Exactly.

A: So you have time into that diagram.

K: Yeah, there is the date, this was the situation at this moment and that is interesting when you think of an archive because it is always like freezing that particular moment in which you document something and this is also because now we are re-visiting the architectural drawings that were made by students from Eindhoven, and these drawings were mostly focused on the spatial interventions that the squatters or residents made, to transform the building into what suits them best.

A: So, they are very detailed. They show objects and structures, mechanisms that they built.

K: Yeah! Also, because of the limited time we had in preparation of the exhibition, the drawings were not so detailed yet, so for the book we are complementing the drawings with more detail. But also we found that, at one hand we wanted to show the architectural quality of the spaces and the interventions as a form of architecture, through this language of architecture. We also wanted to really include voices of the architects, in this case the residents or the squatters, and how they use the space. So we did one desk workshop at PG a few weeks ago, where we brought the drawings that the students made, Maria and Jere also are working on the drawings. We did a workshop with them and asked them to make annotations, we asked them how they use the space, are there spaces that were imagined in different ways, what spaces are collective, are there private spaces, how are the activities organised, how the spaces transform over time, what is the role of the kitchen or the bathroom, how the space is directing how they interact with each other. This was super interesting, because we found incredible stories, that we imagined but... For instance, before, in PG there was a garden but it was then taken by the municipality, and then it’s interesting how different generations inhabited PG or stories inform how spaces have been used now.

A: So you have also drawings from PG.

K: Yes.

J: These are currently accessible on the archive, or not yet?

K: This is exactly what we are working on. So, for the publication we are documenting these spatial practices, and we had long conversations also with the archivists that are working here and how archives are being constructed, and what kind of materials is preserved. What was interesting is that the archive here consists of original material, primary sources. The material that we would then contribute and would also be primary sources that would reveal the spatial practices. This is also why we are working with annotations but still through architectural drawings. So, they become a kind of hybrid documents, with which we also organised the workshop a few weeks ago in which we discussed exactly this process of archiving. Because, at one hand we think is important to make this knowledge publicly accessible for future researchers, or people that are interested in this subject, but we also recognize, or acknowledge at least, there is this fine line between institutional appropriation of these practices. So, we try to be very much aware of that.

A: So, the archive is going to be part of the institution, with the licenses and rules of the institution?

K: Yeah. What we find interesting is that there are maybe parallel archives existing, so of course there was already the archive room in PG, which is an archive in itself, and now the Autonomous Archive, the project that you are working on. We are also making it interactive and accessible in different ways. The archive here is something you can learn from, how you approach discussions, how to make it accessible, actually creating a living archive. At the same time, we are also looking at what kind of material would be relevant to store here and maybe that is different than the material that is stored in the archive at PG. Also, can we maybe refer [to it] as a Dutch archive of architecture to the autonomous archives. So, right now we are preparing books for every case study, very traditional, and we really work with the methodology of the archive here. So, we look on what kind of paper would be preserved for a long time, we make a list with the type of materials that go into the archive, which would mostly be annotated materials, annotated photography, photos that the photographer Johannes Swartz made for the exhibition of all the case studies, and also annotated drawings, but also interviews like these. And now, we refer to the spaces, but there was also another conversation during the workshop that we organised a few weeks ago, and for this we invited people that are working with archives that are also preserving criminalized practices or informal practices or autonomous archives, but also the institute for social history. We had a really good conversation on what is the best way to preserve its history also the actual spatial practice. So, maybe as an institute we can try make it further and try to see if we can maybe preserve the spaces that are actually still existing. So this is something that we are discussing. J: What I find interesting is that in general, there is a lot of new documentation, with drawings and photos, also this consideration of offering the world data of the Autonomous Archive for example. Now everything is stored in the archive over here. It's not part of the AA.

K: Well, I think it would be really nice to be both...

J: Is this already part of the method or is it already something that is under consideration?

K: The AA has already become part of the archive here and we refer to it, but the other way around, not yet. But, I think it would be great somehow to become part of each other's history. This is really nice, the events and the projects in PG, becoming part of its history. And also, during the project we had some guests talking about self resistance in other places, for instance, in Hong Kong, in Milan or Istanbul. And then we were thinking it would make much more sense to organise this in PG. So then we collaborated there. Maybe the institute is as equal culturally as PG. I think both kinds of institutes are very important for Rotterdam. So, I am super curious… because we presented the AA which, also occupied the space in the exhibition last year, and now we are super curious to see where the AA will go to, how the methods will be developed further, what kind of ideas will be brought to the project...challenge fixed ideas about the archive. Maybe preserving original materials here, but they are actually very hybrid documents that are really producing collaboration with each other.

A: So you think PG is a kind of institution...

K: In a way...yeah. relation to the more formal institution here.

K: Renee Bour, who also knows a lot about the actual practice of squatting, [thinks that] in the Netherlands somehow it has always been some kind of an institutional practice, because it was a very organised practice. This is also why we presented it like some sort of a methodology or protocols of squatting actions. So, there have always been squatting information centres for the "kraak is buren" tha also used to be organised at PG. All kind of methods to do research about the vacancy of the building, who owns it, what is its history and also how to deal with other institutions like the municipality or the police. This is also why we were showing the manuals for squatting that have been produced everywhere. Even one and a half years ago, there were new squatting manuals published to give an update, like how to do it after the squatting ban. I think it is interesting how squatting is an improvised practice and always has to deal with other institutions and the legal framework. So, all these interactions with law, with institutions, with the city, with the neighborhood, I think that is...

A: Why you think PG is worth archiving? What is its value for the city or the people around?

K: Yeah! I think its is an exemplary case of how, for 38 years, it has been able to create this space. Actually, it’s best to ask inhabitants, they can tell it beautifully. Rianne wrote this story to introduce the history of PG, where she claims that: this is where people get stuff done. PG is interesting if you look at the whole neighborhood that has developed over the past decades. If you look the neighborhood 20 years ago it was completely different and to a large extent still vacant. I think it is important to show the quality of these forms of collective living, how they contribute to the city and how it's important that they also stay part of the urban fabric. On the one hand, it is important to acknowledge these kinds of practices as an important part of the urban history, and on the other hand from a more contemporary perspective , they are important places in the city.

J: As you speak for the development of the neighborhood, how you see the future of PG?

K: I think it really depends on the community that lives there. For many reasons, because it is a monument, there are many people that are claiming that it should be renovated, but also by the municipality and because it has a private owner now, I think it has always been under pressure. And the struggle also made it a very strong community, I think. It depends, of course, on many factors, like on how the city will develop in the next years, and what the policies will be, but also how the community will be able to maintain themselves.

A: Would you ever live in a living community?

K: In Amsterdam, I lived with 4 people, so it was very small. Actually, I thought about maybe living in PG for a while, because I really love the space, it’s quite dear to me, I have also friends living there. And at the same time I was also thinking that, because I work in the HNI, for me this is also a little bit like the PG in a way. I have a team that I am working with the entire week, so I was thinking maybe if I would not have been working with the HNI, because that is already a community for me, I think I would live in PG, ...maybe in another time. And you?

A: After coming here I see other kind of communities of what I was used to. I would like...yeah...but it has a kind of responsibility that you always have to think about. It is like a kid that you have to take care of it. I would like to be strong enough before I go. Totally conscious in what I am doing. Because otherwise it has an impact on the building for example. I don't know. But if I do it I would like to really intervene, to make the garden, to preserve the building outside also, open it to the neighborhood. And also you have to be stable somewhere. If you are always moving around you cannot really have a strong connection to this area.

K: Yeah, that's true. I think for the Poortgebouw, this particular space, it is also a kind of weird neighbourhood to be in somehow. There are a lot of offices, it's really next to the water. It is almost like a village. And you, would you like to live there?

J: I think it is quite intense, but it could be fun. It's really diving into the deep to make a difference. Like Angeliki said, I have to think about it to see if I would really like to do it. But if I do, I want to contribute to the house. On the other hand, I like the warmth the community offers in this place of the city. And I like the cultural role of the Poortgebouw, offering something against the gentrification of in particular this part of South.

K: Yeah, like an open space.

A: What is the craziest story you heard about the Poortgebouw?

K: Actually, there are many crazy stories. Sometimes it's hard to verify these stories, but I think that is beautiful. Some history is passed on through residents, for instance, you probably heard of it, there was a wall through the middle of the building that was dividing people considering themselves to be more anarchists or artists. And they didn't really want to live together for a while. This was also a story within the squatter movement, the ongoing struggle between the people doing it for a political reason and, on the other side, artists that were squatting to create more communal spaces, and to create an environment for work. That's one history of the Poortgebouw. There is also a story about the female attic. All the women were living there and producing beautiful magazines. And what I really love is the story about the kitchens. Maybe it is my favourite one. I think there are five kitchens in the Poortgebouw. And what is beautiful is that the Poortgebouw is hosting people from different nationalities. And there is one kitchen where the Italian people are usually cooking, and in the other the Spanish. For every hour of the day, you could go to a kitchen, because it is their time to have dinner.

A: It is a giant building. And it creates these strange conflicts and co-existence. It is like a mirrored building.

K: Yes, literally, even when the trucks of Unilever are passing, or actually crushing the building so many times. Yes, it is full of conflicts. Also, how the day cycle in the Poortgebouw works. In the morning, it is really quiet, some people are making coffee in the kitchen. And at night, sometimes there is suddenly a dance party in one of the rooms, or the attic is transformed for a big dinner, or the circus.

A: Do you think it is open enough for the neighbourhood?

K: Yes, I think they are really making an effort. And they are super open to collaborations with other initiatives and organisations. During the open monument day, they always give a tour and people are really surprised about its history and the community that is living there. And what is also good to mention is that still, as we’ve seen with the other case studies and communities we have been working with, they are always referred to as squatters. Although, in the case of the Poortgebouw, that was more than 30 years ago and it has been legalized since 1984, and people are actually paying rent. First to the municipality, now to a private owner. So they are not squatters, but they share a mentality and an idea about what a city should be, accomodate and what kind of practices should be part of it.

J: How would you define the Poortgebouw then?

K: Wow, yeah…

J: It's something we are struggling with ourselves as well. Because sometimes the Poortgebouw insists on not being called squatters. But for example on a event page, the text said "the birthday of our squat community".

K: I think it is something with which they play. I think it is an autonomous community. Because they really work as a community together, with all its struggles, and so far they managed to be autonomous. And also now with their archive, it is an interesting position they take within the city.

A: What effect has the criminalization of squatting on the city?

K: Whatever you think about whether squatting should be legal, or illegal, people see that it can act as a critical voice in the city pointing at real estate speculation, private owners that are really neglecting their property. This is somehow missing now. Also, last year in Amsterdam, people are saying they miss this critical voice in the city. And I think that might be an important point. I think it would be beautiful if cities can also accommodate these kinds of collective forms of living, open autonomous spaces that maybe don’t always conform to the norms. A: Do you think that publishing these architectural drawings and other documents of these kind of communities, will inspire other people to use their ideas in their own house? Because most of these aspects are temporary, while the architecture of houses where people live individually tends to be more frozen.

K: What you see is that a lot of ideas, like the fact that you can live in an industrial building, or the temporary use of spaces, are implemented in the city. There are a lot of different types of legacy of the squatter movement, that also has been commodified by companies.

A: Like IKEA?

K: Yeah, maybe. Do you have an example?

A: Well, they sell objects that you use to modify your space.

K: That is something we want to address in the book. All these appropriations of these practice of appropriation. The Pop-up stores, but also the idea of 'anti-kraak', or anti-squat, which is extremely interesting. Anti-kraak is the idea to let people temporarily guarding a space, so actually it is not renting out space, but you ask people to guard the space. And they pay a little for it. Actually, it has become an industry in itself. René, our fellow researcher, told us that it has become a Dutch export product. And Dutch corporations are now implementing this idea in the UK, where people actually don’t pay such low fees anymore. And what is also true, before the squatting ban, an anti-kraak had less rights than a squatter. You still had this right of domestic peace. So all these kind of ideas, that were invented by squatters or during that time, you see those transformed and adopted by other parties in the city.

A: How is a squatting action stopped nowadays?

K: There is always a court case. So the squatters prepare a letter and mention their lawyer. And the judge decides whether they can stay or not. And if a place gets evicted, often people are placed in the building to use the building and act as an anti-kraak. But usually these anti-kraak are placed in the building as a precaution, to avoid any squatting of the building at all.

J: Is there space for a new Poortgebouw in the Rotterdam of today?

K: Do you mean like literally, a space?

J: No, more like in having the same role in the city. And using the method of appropriating a building to open it up for the city.

K: Well, for the exhibition of architecture of appropriation we collaborated with the design studio ZUS. They created the Luchtsingel, which is this bridge they envisioned for a really large part of Rotterdam so pedestrians can navigate the city in a different way. And they are appropriating public space, with the permission of the municipality in this case. They also have completely transformed the Schieblok here. So there are other forms of appropriation as well. And for Poortgebouw I think, there are a lot of smaller spaces in Rotterdam. Sometimes they are programmed by student communities, which are really important in Rotterdam. So, for instance, I used to live in Amsterdam. And there is a huge struggle for space. Space has always been limited. And there you see a huge legacy of the squatter movement. You have, for example, the Plantagedok, which was squatted and legalized soon after and turned into a 'broedplaats'. A place for artist studios, cafés and more. So I think that there are definitely still places like the Poortgebouw. But they are under economic pressure. In the case of Maastricht for example, a space had to proof its economical value. And maybe there are also other kinds of value that they bring to the city.

A: What other values would that be? And what value could the Poortgebouw show to the city? And how do you document those?

K: The nice thing about the participation of the Poortgebouw is that they can show their relevance in different contexts. So maybe in this institute, because were are focusing on digital culture, design and architecture, we highlight the architectural value and the quality it brings to the urban environment. But I can imagine that all kinds of different people can show the relevance of the Poortgebouw in a different way. Because it has many qualities and values. Also I think its value is in being an example. This is also what we try in documenting how they organise as a group for example, because this is something to be learnt from.

A: How would a common citizen describe the Poortgebouw nowadays?

K: That's a good question. I think like an autonomous castle? I think it is interesting that the architecture is this gate, and I believe they sometimes call it a castle themselves. I think you have to know about its history, the people living there and the events to see that it is really open. Otherwise you would just be very intrigued by this strange place.

A: I asked it, because some people we talked with didn't know there is a living community inside. And they thought it was just an empty building.

K: I can imagine. There is always this sort of balance between not having too much attention, to not get other actors involved and increase the pressure, while it is also good to present yourself publicly. And I think that they are actually doing this, for instance with the open monument day. The type of neighbourhood the Poortgebouw is located in, is maybe not their main audience. I think it is more the rest of the city. Also there is an international audience over there, for example when the squak was held there. There are a lot of different communities interacting with this place.

J: What I think is also interesting, is that there was in the city archive this article in Bouw, from the municipality using the Poortgebouw as an example for group housing. It was a really positive article, which was a contrast to the municipality twenty years later.

K: Yes, this totally depends on the people in charge. In the end it is always people that have a certain position. That yields for the Poortgebouw itself, where some people have a big role in maintaining the community. But it also does for the municipality.

A: How did you came in contact with the people from the Poortgebouw?

K: I have a friend living there, Rianne. She is also really active in the community. It must have been three years ago, or maybe longer.

A: You were still living in Amsterdam then? K: Yes, and I was already working here at the Nieuwe Instituut. So sometimes when it was really late, I could stay at the Poortgebouw. Somehow the Poortgebouw and the Nieuwe Instituut complement each other in a nice way.

A: Are there different future plans of the Poortgebouw part of the archive of the Nieuwe Instituut?

K: It is something we discussed with the different communities involved in the project. But in this case it was not so much of a topic. There is still the threat that the building has to be renovated. In the ideal situation, the residents would do that themselves. If not, there would be some negotiations about the rent. That is also why they are working with Stad in de Maak, to see what is the future of the building. Are you also going to interview them?

A: I think we said questions, because we have a lot of people to interview.

J: We just put out a big net to catch information.

A: But it could be nice, because I like their architectural approach. We tried to interview a diverse set of people.

K: Also people of the municipality?

J: Yes, we are going to interview some people from the gebiedscommissie Feyenoord.

K: Also something we tried to do for the exhibition was to create timelines of historical events in the buildings, also for the legal documents and events. In one of the cases we showed the plan for eviction of one of the spaces.

A: Do you know when the separation between the artists and the anarchists happened?

K: No, maybe you should ask one of the residents. There are different stories about it. Do you have a lot of discussions about what kind of materials you can make public and what not?

A: Yes, a lot.

J: There is still a lot to do to find out who is the owner of the material and what we can do with it.

A: We are also thinking about making our own license for the publication. What is accessible, what is not, and how does it work in general?

K: It is something we deal with it as well.

A: For the HNI archive, what's the best way to search?

K: You have the collection and the library. And in the library, there are a lot of newspaper articles. So that could be interesting. For the archive it is best to contact Hetty, who has been working with us since the beginning of the project. So we have for example a list of formerly squatted and still squatted buildings. And also we found a lot of squatting manuals in archives of architects, so that is interesting. So we have items, but they are assembled in a different way than we do now. For the Poortgebouw there is a little bit of material, but not so much.

A: And for squatting in general?

K: Most of it is in the library. During the exhibition we took one shelf to dedicate this to squatting. It is still there. There is also one bookstore in Amsterdam, Het Fort van Sjakoo, and they have a lot of books and manuals about squatting. But also publications of communities, for example the ADM community.

A: And for the urban planning around the Poortgebouw?

K: That's something to ask Hetty.

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