Prof. Ming Liang wrote an article about Artspace Rondeel Maastricht. This article is published in the Chinese architecture magazine:
Interior Design China & <Area China> by Helen Yao (Jing), Editor-in-chief
this is the english translation of the text:
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Squatting has great economy of means but not necessary economy of scale. A building inhabited by squatters is by definition a compressed, compromised version of sub-standard living, existing between the margins of law and social tolerance. The most common features of such places are the lack of a postal address for delivery, no official service provider, water, gas, electricity and the latest commodity, the Internet. It is a place where normally windows are shut, with blinds permanently down or curtain drawn. Sometime the building facade is covered altogether. You have to constantly look out for the police, law enforcer or a neighbour, who might be surveying you to find some fault in you and give them the excuse to evict you. The key to your front door might work well but it is never a legitimized key. You are constantly in the liminal state of mind.
Within this primarily banal system of existence, and in one of the most bourgeois of European cities, Maastricht, Kaspar könig redefines the meaning of squatting and turns an abandoned industrial complex into a nurturing site for his personal development as well as a center of social enterprising and exchange. In his words, a place to facilitate social reform and cultural catalysis. His ultimate vision is to create a sustainable place that is capable of self-generation through its creative and artistic naus and constantly shifting owners or occupiers. It will define its own future and fortune.
The industrial complex used to be the storage units of a roofing company before Kaspar legally took it over, later negotiating with the local authority to return cultural value for rent and pay 900 Euros a month for energy and taxes as for sewage and disposal. It now has a status of being officially recognized and protected under the law. The Artspace Rondeel Maastricht or ARM, as it is called, is loosely divided into 4 areas; the performance space, the garden, the storage and the atelier. The hall is about 400 square meters in area and 5.5 meters in height; along two of its sides there are the upper galleries as well as warrens of smaller rooms. It easily sits 50 people or 2-3 hundred if standing. It is here that most of the events happen; talks, concerts, exhibition and workshops. These functions are not much different from purpose-built public buildings’ but it is constantly changing in its interior layout and almost always configured to suit the new events. It is extremely flexible, adaptable and economical to move things around. The whole place is an open stage, with no front or back. The garage workshop next to it is now the Oil BAR; taking advantage of the mechanized platform for under chassis inspection in its previous incarnation, the bar provides a cool place to serve food and drink during events. This bar also functioned as a clothing swap center where people can bring their clothes in and swap for other one without money ever having changed hands. There are 5 ateliers in the top floor for individual living and working, sharing a common bathroom and communal kitchen and dinning area. It certainly has the entire array of normal services amenities, if not better than normal. Not only does it resemble a home, but also it has industrial efficiency and durability. The other loosely connected space is part of what they called the ‘flowmarket’ (things come in to be recycled and go out again). This included storage for hundreds of plates and tableware from a now-closed restaurant used to hire/hide illegal Asian immigrants.
On entering the premises through an unlock gate, one is welcomed by the sight of a vegetable garden of the most unusual kind, from a sofa of plants, to industrial standard pallets filled with organic soil sitting on top of what was once contaminated concrete paving. There are pots and pans of all descriptions, all are now planters and vegetable boxes. Between hanging clothes and artifacts one can be totally relaxed and sonically and visually isolated enough to read a book in peace even as vegetables are waiting to be harvested nearby. The constant stream of produce, if not enough for its 4 -5 residents (not forgetting their stream of friends and visitors) it is certainly enough for a colourful and healthy supplementation of a European bio-diet. I say European because the residents are so far made up of Dutch, Germans, Belgian, Greek, Italian and Swiss to name just a few. And some obviously have green fingers. The important idea is not just to provide the spinach for your dinner in order for you not have to rush out before the supermarket closes, but to ‘re-earth’ our domestic space as much as we can, according to Kaspar. Guerrilla gardening is not new in Europe after all. On one corner one notices that there is an odd but striking looking sculpture/ contraption, which turns out to be compost generator and planter, combined. It is a dramatic modification of an abandoned shopping trolley (indeed many things in ARM are abandoned objects from all over the city and perhaps it is true to say ARM is one of the best unofficial plants or parks for creative recycling),a kind of simple enough garden on wheels but recognizably borrowed from the image of the iconic tower of Babylon. A message emerged; this ‘garden’ has a host of plants which each do something to compost, to convert acid into normal Ph again. The earth thus can purify the Earth. You can put your biodegradable waste in the “chimney” and empty it on the spot you want to have good earth again.
Everywhere one cares to look at this place, it is full of objects that defy our imagination, beg you to ask: ‘what is this and why it is ending up here?’. The idea that it is not a normal residential home or public office, or a factory of any kind confuses its visitors. It is indeed a confrontation of our industrialized overproduced world, waiting for our reaction and resolution. What do we do with kilometers and kilometers of cables, thousands of still watchable videotapes, heaps and piles of building and industrial materials, tools and even small machinery of all kinds. Can we, though our sheer imagination and tenacity turn them into goods again, make indestructible bags and containers out of fire hoses, or kitchen lights, as ARM does. Will that be enough? Some wastes are luckily used on site. Many pieces of furniture and fittings are made this way, from a room within a room that resemble a small church that one can marry in, as a resident in ARM wants to, to a scaffolding looking staircase made of redundant exhibition stands that is not just for stepping up and down from but constructed boldly that inspires you for an adventure or journey. There are no less than three pianos, numerous keyboards and drum kits and speakers and synthesizers of all kinds, and being in Holland dozens and dozens, perhaps even over a hundred needing-repair bicycles. Interestingly one bicycle wheel is converted to be a homemade Bedini battery chargers/rejuvenators, based on a very recent scientific discovery that claims it charges batteries using much less energy than traditional chargers, hailing the possibility that heavily sulfated batteries can be restored to near-new condition.
But of course the way ARM enters the minds of the Maastricht citizens and the city’s culture map is its very successful public engagement program. It provides venues for streams of performance from dance to music, for well-established and unknown artists and musicians; jazz, world, classic, and dance, you name it. One can even experience entirely new instrument – a ‘sound machine’ from Kaspar himself combines digital technology and a string and percussion instrument in a classical bicycle frame. (You can still ride on it.) Or a horn by Samuel Stoll that is extended with many tubes and separate hornpipes to make the house into the instrument itself. The dance picture in this article is the performance from maja gehrig and vasiliki tsagkari called “from dust till dawn”. You can see the fascination performance of dust in the air, in slow motion, a secret confession of the thing nobody can avoid.
There are workshops targeted from school children to professionals. Architects design buildings for deserts immediately after an invited experts’ talks on the subject; bamboo construction exercises for kids and teenagers.
In one of the ‘soundspaces’ a tent structure is made from a hot-air balloon from a bank (previously for their own promotion). It is now used to cover the concert area to provide a more intimate space. When the balloon was technically not air-worthy any more, after the concert it was transformed yet again into square meters of material to make clothes and fashion accessories. The ‘bank’ was supported by hot air, now made tangible, useable and enjoyable again. That is the irony.
The most popular is the performance park “waiting in the wings” where performing arts are being practiced. There is a different artist in every corner in the hall, doing something – from a manual photo booth where you get a portrait sketched to complex rituals with the camera obscura.
Loud music tends to attract and offend local people and this not good news for ARM. Police do come in from time to time; warning them that a neighbour thinks enough is enough. Since 1 month ago, for the first time in history, a squatting law is set up that punish squatters with a 2 year imprisonment for occupying empty buildings.
Social entrepreneurship and art and creativitivity at the end are subject to the rule of law and what a neigbourhood will tolerate. The full cycle of the experiment has yet to be played out. How long can Kaspar and ARM continue to provide breathe of fresh air or life blood to the city of Maastricht? – it is still too early to tell. We can only give it our best wishes.
Also there is an article on archined.
thanks to Nora de Baan for her correction in the quote!