Postage Stamp Architecture

Postage Stamp Architecture

TNT Post, the Dutch postal company has collaborated with the Netherlands Architecture Institute to develop a new line of postage stamps that feature both monumental works and experimental projects. More about the postage stamps, from previous NAI director Aaron Betsky following the break.

I know I have been on a Dutch rag as of late, but where else can you buy postage stamps that honor not just architects, but architecture, and not just timeworn monuments, but experimental work that has not even been built? As a kicker, the stamps are designed so that, if you hold them up to a Web cam, they turn into 3D models floating in front of your screen. The project is a collaboration between the Dutch postal company TNT Post, and the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI), which I used to direct.

The postage-stamp-size exhibit consists of five buildings. As a bonus, if you hold up a whole sheet to the camera, you see an image of the NAI itself. Moreover, the stamps are paired with an Augmented Reality App called UAR (Urban Augmented Reality) that lets you place this and other unbuilt structures in meatspace by holding your iPhone up to the site.

All of this is a way for the NAI to manifest itself while it is closed for extensive renovations. That project will in turn make the institute more focused on debate and discussion than on exhibition. The whole operation raises the question of how architecture can best appear, especially when it is of the experimental (unbuilt) kind. I have long argued that models, drawings, and photographs of built structures are a very poor substitute for the actual building, which only makes sense when you experience it in all its dimensions and parts. The problem with such buildings, however, is that it is often difficult to find the architecture embedded within them. An exhibition of experimental architecture can serve to show an architecture that is still free and full of possibilities. It exhibits all the qualities of architecture without being constrained by its construction.

Such a method also limits what the architecture can do to the realm of cultural discussion and display: It shows architecture as speculation, criticism, and a building block for a new reality, not as a confirmation of the world as we know it.

My one quibble with this sheet of wonders is that the NAI chose experimental work that proposes monumental, autonomous structures: a skyscraper proposed by SEARCH, a parking tower by Marco Vermeulen, a library by MVRDV, a wind tower by ZUS, and a Knowledge Cluster by Neutelings Riedijk. Only the last building reveals any of its interior intricacies–a problem especially with the parking tower, which depends on complex technology, and the library, whose payoff consists of an interior mountain of books.

MVRDV-designed library in Spijkenisse, Courtesy: MVRDV

I would have loved to have seen structures that really fly of the sheet or the screen, like some of MVRDV’s theoretical projects, or whose minimalist forms, such as those Wiel Arets proposes, seem to dissect space as we know it to be. Structures that are extend off the plot into infrastructure, such as OMA’s tram tunnel in The Hague or the train stations I discussed earlier this week would have shown the way beyond monuments.

Tram tunnel by OMA, Photo: Hans Werlemann, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

These little marvels are fun and easy to comprehend. They are fragments of possible architecture that float in the air in your living room or your office, disseminated across the country and affordable enough for all. If we are looking for models and inspiration as we seek to rebuild America, this might make a postage stamp size contribution.

Source: Written by Aaron Betsky

About this author
Cite: Kelly Minner. "Postage Stamp Architecture" 14 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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