A Research by Photography studio exploring Americanism in Rotterdam with Charlie Koolhaas, taking place between 10 and 18 June 2022.
The time that Rotterdam was a bleak and boring city is not far in the past and yet it seems to be completely forgotten. Embracing the nickname Manhattan on the Maas, the city currently derives a large part of its identity from its shiny towers that since the 1980s have popped up all around the city center - one even higher than the other. This development has created an iconic image that does well in city marketing and tourist brochures and has helped to put the city on the map. But a closer look might reveal a whole different meaning of Rotterdam being named after one of America’s most known urban areas; there is the car-centred urban planning that still dominates the city and a car cruising culture in shopping streets such as the Meent or West-Kruiskade. In addition, there’s a lively hip-hop and graffiti scene that are part of a street culture that reflects the superdiversity of the city’s population. And these demographics also bring a certain entrepreneurialism to the city that pervades everyone. All of these are phenomena that distinguish Rotterdam from other Dutch cities and simultaneously connect it to many US-cities.
These were some of the observations made by artist, photographer, and writer Charlie Koolhaas when moving to Rotterdam some years ago, noting how this city is arguably the most American city in the Netherlands and has been for a long time. Since the publication of her book What happened in Rotterdam in 2016, Charlie Koolhaas has shown herself to be a perceptive voyeur, becoming part of her surroundings anywhere in the world while looking at it as a stranger. She combined the insights she has as a former resident of world cities such as Houston, London and Guanghzou in her recent book City Lust, in which she uses text and photography to edit her impressions and analyses into a probing narrative. That narrative tells of the influences of global trade and the evolution of a shared global culture.
In this research-by-photography studio, that will culminate in a finished book, we will investigate the hypothesis that Rotterdam is the most American city in the Netherlands (and possibly even Europe). By focusing on Rotterdams American influences, alliances and synchronicities - whether it be in the many urban cultures that permeate the city - the fashions, the musics and arts - to the cities housing typologies, and infrastructure, we will look at how this remote Dutch city sometimes unashamedly appropriates Americanism. And though American imperialism imposes its culture on much of the world, Rotterdammers seem to embrace their connections to the US wholeheartedly.
In this research-by-photography studio, we will look for hotspots of American activities and culture. Charlie Koolhaas will take us out into the city to explore where and how this Americanism reveals itself in Rotterdam, what it means and for whom; to explore the city of Rotterdam, where cultural dynamics are high and as Charlie puts it: “where life casually reveals the undeniable vitality, successes and failures of Europe's multi-cultural project at a moment in history when it's under siege.” Charlie will explain the methodologies behind her photographic urban research, and based on her way of telling stories in her publications, the workshop will edit and design a book that explains our findings around the hypothesis.
The workshop is split into two blocks. We will start on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 June with introductory lectures and conversations about the content and meaning of Americanism in Rotterdam. We will go out into the city and talk with people to get different perspectives and new insights. We will hunt for iconic places, hidden gems or just regular scenes of daily life – everything that is needed to tell our story. In the days that follow, there is space for individual photo-taking, to eventually gather altogether again in the School on Friday 17 June to gather the photographs of all participants and collectively edit the material into a visual narrative. On Saturday the 18th of June we do some final editing and write captions to eventually compile all material into a book. The outcome of the studio will be presented to a large audience during our School Party on June 24.
Since this is explicitly a research-by-photography workshop, the emphasis is not on the technical aspects of photography, but on photography as a way to develop a narrative. Anyone with an interest in the subject and a keen eye can participate; no special skills, equipment or photographic knowledge is required.
Charlie Koolhaas is a dutch photographer and writer who grew up in London where she contributed to newspapers and magazines through photography and writing. After receiving an M.A. in Interactive Media from Goldsmith University in 2005, she moved to Guangzhou, China, where she founded and edited the international journal UNIT. Charlie’s photographic work has been featured in exhibitions around the world, including the Vitra Design Museum (Germany), the Third Line Gallery Downtown Pavilion (Dubai), the Venice Biennale (Italy) and Get it Louder (China). Her solo show True Cities was exhibited in Berlin, London, and Eindhoven between 2009 and 2012. In 2017 she self-published the book ‘What Happened in Rotterdam’ about her current home city in the Netherlands. In her most recent book CITY LUST (2020) she uses a combination of photography and written testimonies to explore five linked global metropolises in which she has either lived or worked: London, Guangzhou, Lagos, Dubai, and Houston. Charlie Koolhaas has taught visual culture theory at TU Delft and the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Her books Metabolism Trip (Heibonsha Publishers) and Evolving Spaces (Brownbook Publishers) were published in 2012.
Michelle Provoost is part of the Dean Team of the Independent School for the City, co-founder of Crimson Historians and Urbanist, and director of the International New Town Institute. She is an architectural historian specialised in urban planning history, postwar architecture and contemporary urban development. Michelle teaches at various universities in the Netherlands and abroad and continues to be in great demand as a public speaker. She lectures regularly throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States, and has been involved in many municipal, national and private committees and juries.
Wouter Vanstiphout is an architectural historian and researcher who has written extensively on urbanism and spatial politics. He is part of the Deans Team of Independent School for the City and founding partner of Crimson Historians & Urbanists. He held the chair Design & Politics at the TU Delft, which explored, researched and defined the boundaries, commonalities and tensions between the fields of politics and design. He has directed the renewal of the Dutch industrial satellite town of Rotterdam: Hoogvliet and advises municipalities, the national government, housing corporations and Project Developers on matters relating to urban renewal, cultural heritage and spatial and urban politics. From 2012 to 2016, he was a member of the national advisory council on the environment and infrastructure (RLI).
Mike Emmerik is Director of the Independent School for the City and partner at Crimson Historians & Urbanists. He was trained as an urban designer at the Delft University of Technology and subsequently worked in the Faculty of Architecture as a teacher and researcher within the Chair of Design as Politics. Mike took part in various research and design projects at the intersection of urban development and policymaking and is affiliated with the Dutch Board of Government advisors from which he advises the national government and local authorities on issues related to urbanisation and mobility.
Friday 10 June 2022
15:00 – 17:00 Welcome and introduction, Presentations by Charlie Koolhaas, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost
17:00 – 18:00 Dinner break
18:00 – 19:30 Evening field trip
Saturday 11 June 2022
10:00 – 12:00 Guided field trips
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break
13:30 – 18:00 Guided field trips
Sunday 12 – Thursday 16 June 2022
Individual field research and photography
Friday 17 June 2022
10:00 – 12:30 Collective editing of material and building a story
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break
13:30 – 17:00 Collective editing of material and building a story
Saturday 18 June 2022
10:00 – 12:30 Final editing and writing captions
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break
13:30 – 17:00 Final editing and writing captions
Friday 24 June 2022
20:00 – 24:00 Opening of exhibition and presentation of outcome during the Independent School for the City’s School Party