John Bezold

‘Exhibition Review: NYC Meets Amsterdam’


To have a glimpse is to have a peek. In the case of the exhibition ‘Glimpses 2040: New York/Amsterdam’ currently on display at ARCAM in Amsterdam and simultaneously in the AIA Center for Architecture in New York City, a glimpse is well defined as a vision for the future. According to the exhibition organizers, both cities are increasingly facing a myriad of conflicts: a shortage of housing, a lack of public green space, outdated infrastructure, polluted air, and troublesome food production. The need to plan for these long-term conflicts constitutes the exhibition’s five simple but powerful themes: Dwelling, Breathing, Moving, Making, and Eating, Brought in to brainstorm solutions for these urban struggles are locals: five young architecture and landscape firms from Amsterdam and New York City. Each has investigated one theme as it relates to their city, transforming their assessment into a final vision–a glimpse–of what the future of two of the world’s capital cities may look like.

At the exhibition’s entrance, maps of New York and Amsterdam show the location of each proposal. The exhibition’s problem-solving nature is counterbalanced by a straightforward presentation: each theme is explored through the use of two side-by-side and oversized renderings (some digital, others by hand), the easier to compare their forward-looking thoughts. Each proposal is accompanied by a small text that explains the concept with words, oftentimes with the help of diagrams, maps, and in some cases, more words. Framed and displayed in such a way as to resemble oversized works of art, each glimpse varies from the next; reassuring the assumption that creative freedom was given to participants. However, since so much of the exhibition’s emphasis is centered on the visual, often times the ideas of each glimpse are not easily deduced, and sometimes easily confused with the utopian images of avant-garde groups from the past.

In this respect, Interboro’s glimpse towards DWELLING in Newark–technically located in New Jersey–seems to be the most successful in its attempt to communicate its glimpse, by using a colorful mixture of words and sketches of familiar city settings (bridges, street corners) and the life that takes place within them. Quotes by the usual suspects, like Saskia Sassen and Jane Jacobs, ground the glimpse in the real world. Space&Matter’s proposal for Amsterdam also combines words with city visuals, to produce a glimpse of 2040 that recognizes the increasing need to feel connected to like-minded individuals.

At the heart of New York City and Amsterdam is water. Both cities were founded as maritime trading outposts and both have since grown to become world cultural capitals. Both glimpses for the theme BREATHING (New York City’s by W Architecture, and Amsterdam’s by the offices of Delva and Dingeman Deijs) make extensive and surprisingly similar use of their city’s waterfronts. Both glimpses use dredged earth to create artificial islands in their surrounding waters, accessible to city residents for recreation and available to animals and plants to refuge, take root and help purify polluted city air. But it’s Amsterdam’s glimpse that goes one step further by proposing to utilize energy from the various water depths within the IJ, and later employ it for the purpose of heating and cooling the city’s buildings. It’s ideas like these that, while simple to produce visually, might take some time to materialize.

In addition to the five themes on display, hidden layers of meaning begin to expose themselves after a careful study of the exhibition, threading the themes together in ways that at first escape the eye. Collectivity, communication, and cooperation seem to be the three underlying concepts that the designers think humans will deploy to direct the future of New York City and Amsterdam. Urban farming, connecting various modes of transportation, clean industry, and multiculturalism–all the ideas currently hailed as being towards a more sustainable environment are to be found in the exhibition. And even though many of the ideas and concepts the exhibition’s themes explore have been seen before, rarely have they simultaneously been applied to such prominent cities, assembled, and then placed on public view.

The future is impossible to predict, especially in the case of cities, where infinite factors direct urban and social progress. But the progressive nature of the exhibit will receive a warm welcome from those looking for a break from the archetypal architectural exhibition that just highlights one designer’s work; others might be let down by the straightforward nature of the information on display, especially with the exhibition’s title promising so much. This is an exhibition of ideas meant to provoke, for the sole purpose of generating further thought. What the exhibition doesn’t do is offer a general plan to combat the problems. But then again, why should it? The beautiful and larger-than-life glimpses into 2040, each a work of art, are reason enough to take a peek into the future.

Originally published at Archined.