The New Craft School

In 2014, the Creative Industries Fund NL issued a research call for designers, with the aim of being part of the discussion on the future of the Dutch vocational institute. As a team of architects and architecture historians, we proposed a study called ‘The New Craft School’. This title was a statement that pointed towards our interests and motivations. In practice, our architectural work depends entirely on craftspeople who are skilled and —in the sociologist Richard Sennett’s definition of good craftsmanship—have “the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake”. As teachers in architecture, we recognise for ourselves the notion of educating a craft that requires—to quote Sennett yet again—“being focussed on acquiring professional skills”. Therefore, our research has been concentrated on the role that architecture can play not only in designing new schools, but in creating environments in which students are motivated to become ‘good craftspeople’.

We think that the architecture of vocational schools help to foster and showcase cultures of craft, to later integrate them into society. However, within its discourse it is crucial to expand upon the notion of architectural design itself—as the creation of an environment, a context in which social relations are negotiated, and where culture materialises. To design a school is to give shape to buildings, but also to the communities of its users and to the environment in which a school is embedded. It is a collaboration between the client, the users who inform the craft culture and who best understand the identity of the school, and the architect who translates ideas and aspirations into form.

The book puts the Dutch vocational school forward as a specific architectural project. One the one hand, this entails knowledge of its local history and evolution; and on the other, comparisons with cases in other contexts. It also acknowledges that the craft school is never an institute that stands on its own, and that the essential impact for craft culture is at times not delivered by the school itself, but by another figure in its network.

At the heart of the publication, 26 best practices are depicted: historical and contemporary; vocational schools and other institutes related to the vocational, built and imagined; new and reused; Dutch and from abroad. Their shared architectural agenda is a conscious representation of vocational cultures. In order to make them comparable, we combined both a historical and architectural reading of the projects. The historical reading captures the buildings in their context, time, and intention. The architectural reading describes their autonomous architectural merits. The result is a cross-cultural and cross-historical archive of ideas that can serve as models; not to copy, but to inspire and build on, to create a new chapter in the history of the craft school. After all, their cultural value has led to outspoken, characterful buildings that have countered the blandness of the Dutch school production of the last twenty years. With this, they represent a specific kind of sustainability: offering qualities that keep buildings valuable over time and create pleasant and stimulating environments.

For the visual representation of the buildings, we chose architectural drawings that depicted the buildings in their surroundings and selected images that depicted contemporary projects as places of the everyday rather than curated architectural objects. The pictures consisted of stills from films that we made during our visits. To transform the concept of our films onto paper, graphic designers Sandra Kassenaar and David Bennewith superimposed several successive stills to highlight life in and around the buildings. Instead of conceiving the physical form of the book merely as a medium to transmit information, Sandra and David proposed to supplement the book-object itself by customising paper for it. This paper was made by Schut Papier, a paper mill in Heelsum. It was based on reinterpreted samples—selected from the mill’s archive—of an industrial filtration paper from 1947 and various security papers the mill had produced over the years.



Glqb 9q3

Paper making at Schut Papier