Acceptance speech


Madelon Vriesendorp


Given at the Women in Architecture award ceremony & luncheon in association with The Architectural Review and the Architects’ Journal,
March 2018, London

A Muslim feminist was asked why she, a feminist, a strong woman, was still walking behind her husband. The answer was simple. Landmines. It’s funny but also somehow symbolic for the way that many partnerships have ‘worked’, through the ages. Hiding behind the ‘man with a mission’. Daring and strong.

Letting him take the risks, take the rap, the criticism, without the responsibilities and jealousies. All this standing behind your man, the strong supporting woman behind him, whispering in his ear, the first lady. But being self-effacing and demure has now come to an end. Taking it lying down or standing up has become for most women a condition of the past. It was an easy premise, a lazy and safe way to have influence, being admired for staying in the background. But now we took the plunge, we are also independent, career-oriented, and hated. Allowing no more bum pinching or groping. No more mother-in-law or wife jokes. Like, “take my wife…please!”

It leaves us in a collective ‘me too’ and ‘time’s up’ battle from sexual harassment to petty, awkward unwelcome seduction techniques. But more ubiquitous, and more insidious, is the way that many women are ignored. Written out of the script and invisible to the nakedly ambitious, self-promoting eyes. For these women I would like to start a counter-movement called ‘Me neither!’.

I myself have never actually been ignored, it’s impossible with my big mouth and an upbringing by an angry feminist writer mother. But I still clearly have to defend my legacy. If not only by loud grumbling. A marriage – and a subsequent family – always has a bit of a hostage situation feel about it.

In my case a house with children and an office, always a hive of intense activity and collaboration. So the best escape from the constant battle for dominance is drawing, making things, playing, inventing games and collecting. Thus creating an alternative life outside or inside the family. At least that’s how it’s always been for me.

Collecting started in America, searching for material for Delirious New York and finding Americana: objects, souvenirs, postcards, books, models of skyscrapers, and anything inspiring. Basically we were tourists, finding beauty in obscure things. Not understanding, speculating freely. Freed from our rigid Calvinist upbringing in post-war Holland – we readily embraced bad taste, in our excitement to shed the moral high ground. The ground rules were already there, inspired by people like Andy Warhol and the Venturis, who were also cultural tourists. Bad taste was the norm, and one of the liberating features of our stay in America. We plunged heavily into New York’s multicultural society that was rebelling… the anti-authoritarian era had begun!

While Rem was writing his book, I was inspired by our growing collection of books and postcards of New York, I was painting my New York series.

Our first collaboration was with Elia, Rem’s teacher at the AA then, and his wife Zoe. A scheme for a Casabella competition “The City As a Meaningful Environment”. Rem had studied the Berlin Wall and was struck by the fact that the wall surrounded the free West Germans. So the idea for the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture came into being. It consisted of a long strip (inspired by Superstudio’s continuous monument), divided into squares. Rem and Elia designed the Utopian content, and we, the wives, coloured and pasted. Rem and I made collages. Inside the strip was heaven, outside was hell. Everyone won (I seemed to remember).

In the appendix of Delirious New York (called a Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, treating New York like an art movement), were schemes for New York, fantastical inventions, theories – one of which was the City of the Captive Globe: the multicultural city allowed to flourish and multiply by the invention of the block on a grid.

I collaborated on the drawing and made the first watercolour for the book. Then never realising that it was credited to Zoe at the very back but 40 years later, I discovered that in all the subsequent reprints in all the various languages, these mis-credits were reprinted! The latest being in Reinier de Graaf’s recent book, which I found in a museum bookstore in Rotterdam. I made all the watercolour versions and Zoe did some in acrylic. I redrew and painted a watercolour version for an exhibition called The City, adding in the right hand corner a skeletal model of Rem’s entry for the Grand Bibliothèque at the Pompidou Centre.

Here is the New York series, the love affair of two skyscrapers, the adventures of Miss Liberty, the subconscious of New York. And later the birthday party of the couple’s postmodern babies, the streamers being the postmodern entries for the Venice Biennale.

Collaboration has always been an enormous part of my working practice. To involve another mind, culture, discipline, is crucial. Opening up one’s mindset, to look through other people’s eyes, and make them look through yours, both stepping beyond one’s own limits.

Lina Bo Bardi, my hero, made people do more than they dared. It’s very important to overestimate each other’s abilities as it inspires some tour-de-force. Apart from Rem and Charles Jencks, I collaborated with Charlie my daughter, Fenna my niece, Sylvia Libedinsky, Kees Christaanse (chess game) and Assemble, among others.

I feel strongly about the tendency to separate people’s work from the people who collaborate in an office. I think people are already influenced by the presence of others alone. They are talking, they are drawing… this whole quest nowadays of who did what is often a financial game plan. Charlotte Perriand, Anne Tyng and Lilly Reich – had they worked alone? Certainly not, but if a “Me neither” movement had existed at the time, they would have been credited appropriately!

Rem’s influence has been enormous to many. He had a great influence on my New York series, suggesting that the Rockefeller Center signify modernity, catching the Lovers in the act – even though it wasn’t meant for the cover of DNY.

Would I have made the storyboard for an animation movie without Teri – NO! So collaboration has always been important.

I really like the whispering game side of history; outsider art is at the end of this game. The story entirely taken over by the listener or viewer, his or her interpretation of another culture, adding their life experience.

I don’t’ believe in authenticity; we all borrow from what we have seen. I was happily surprised when Rem in an essay had copywritten many random words. I find a lot of this copyright abusive and financially corrupt. There was even an attempt recently to copyright a colour!

In many instances we all borrow, we all store and use images. Picasso once said, ‘bad artists copy, good artists steal!’



With thanks to Madelon Vriesendorp.
Click here to see a film of the speech.




JUNKSPACE by Rem Koolhaas
ROOM AT THE TOP? by Denise Scott Brown