Architect Jaap Dijkman
‘I actually never look to the architecture rags for inspiration.’
Dijkman began his design career - after studying architecture at the University of Technology in Delft - as a furniture maker and designer. 'I had expositions and sold my furniture; in fact I sort of thought of the furniture as small building projects. I would go into my workshop some evening and before I knew it I had made something. It's terrific when things happen that quickly, but it's also true that sometimes nothing happens; and then you have to push further.'
He never finished his studies. In the course of his schooling there were many tempting commissions, and practice seemed more compelling than theory. Finally he earned the necessary credentials from experience; but looking back, Dijkman has a positive view of his time as a student. 'I had a lot of good teachers, and I found them to be good teachers because they were interesting people. They reflected deeply about things, and I hoped that I could take a bit of that from them. It wasn’t so much that they had designed great buildings.'
The thought-processes he learned in school stayed with him, and later he utilised them when he taught at the Rietveld Acadamy. He was not as interested in the results of the creative process as in the process itself - for example, he once asked his students to make two tables; one ugly and one beautiful. 'It was clear at once that 85% of the 'ugly' tables turned out great, and the 'beautiful' tables were clichés. The 'beautiful' tables no longer had the power to surprise, because we have all seen them in the magazines and in the shops. That the 'ugly' tables ended up being considered ‘beautiful’ called the concept of 'ugly' into question, and introduced the idea that ‘ugly’ sometimes comes from the heart. Of course there is no standard for 'ugly', and the students wouldn't rest until they made something really ugly. Fantastic!'
Jaap Dijkman's focus on the creative process is clearly seen in many other ways. For example, there is the case of inspiration - here Dijkman is much more concerned with the process of creation than with results, or with aesthetic considerations. 'Actually I never look to the architecture rags for inspiration; I want to keep that at bay. But to me the client is central, and I get my inspiration from him; I discuss things with the client until something comes to me. If the design is successful, and is printed up in a magazine, so much the better - but it is not the goal'. Dijkman is also a great believer in being skeptical about solutions to problems, and in making decisions slowly; for him this is an important part of the creative process. 'The essence of doubt is to keep all the ideas and discussions on the fire,' he says. 'The longer it simmers, the better for the entire project. Then it is obvious when everyone says, "that's it!" It's also a question of how you see the world - I would rather see it perfectly integrated and not in separate little boxes. The NRC is an ideal commission, because I can put all my ideas into it. It's not just an office building, but also a restaurant and a debating space. It's integrated, and a whole.'
Alongside the work process is another fundamental building-block in Dijkman's working method - it must be fun. 'There are occasions when I simply look at the situation for couple of weeks and see if a relationship gels; if it doesn't, I advise the client to see if someone else wouldn't suit him better. A project is for me composed of two separate elements; the design of the building itself and the design of the building process. The architect and the client must work together for perhaps two years, and you have to have a good feeling about each other or it won't work.'
Jaap Dijkman steers clear of design magazines, of the beautiful (almost poetic) talk of designers, or indeed of the classics of design. Actually, he is not so very concerned with his reputation or his fame. He would much rather enjoy the moment. 'I have an outstanding life, what with my family, and my work. I’m not interested if I find it worthwhile in 40 years. Of course it's wonderful when people look back and enjoy your completed buildings; but you can’t forget how important it is to enjoy the now. Look at the great artists; what does Van Gogh enjoy from his work today?'