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Interview with Alejandro Campos Uribe

Why do you think Van Eyck did not work on history in a systematic way?

I think in the end he was an architect, not a historian.

Do you want to explore these 'affinities’ by looking at the house?

Yes, I want to try to understand why he collected all these things, and why he talked so much about them in his conferences. A lot of researchers have written about Van Eyck and the Dogon and these other cultures he talked a great deal about. But few seem to have attempted to understand why he had this specific interest in ethnographic art and why he collected these particular objects and placed them so carefully inside his house. I mean, nobody that I know has taken these objects one by one and written about their plausible connection to Van Eyck’s architectural work.

I went to visit the house initially, because I was trying to understand why van Eyck was interested in poetry books. When I went to the house – trying to find the books, to analyse his library – I got inside and I thought I was completely mistaken! Because it was not only about the poetry books, it was about so many more things. It was a complete accident I discovered his house.

Do you know the Otterlo Circles? This scheme says we should take into account three dimensions: classical architecture, modern architecture and also vernacular architecture. I think his house is a physical manifestation of these Otterlo Circles, an embodied version of the diagram that shows how Van Eyck was opening up the canon, as we were discussing earlier.

I am approaching the house as the closest thing we now have to him. I want to interview the house as it were and ask: “Why are you here, little mask? How did you get here? Why were you so important to Van Eyck?” During my PhD, I analysed the house as an architectural design, a place where Van Eyck tested many of the architectural strategies that he was also using in his other buildings. I’ve interpreted the house from six different perspectives: as a piece in a set of four houses inhabited by the Van Eycks; as a polycentric composition of architectural elements such as stairs, podiums, fireplaces, doors, cupboards; as a transmutation of an existing historic building where both “times” still coexist; as a sequence of charged spaces in-between walls and things; as a device that, through its imaginary windows – paintings, masks and so on – can contain the whole world; and as a place that slowly fused with the group of places that I can call home. These perspectives were all strongly related to Van Eyck’s writings and theoretical proposals, and his readers will quickly identify them!

Now I am focusing more on the house as the Van Eyck Collection, not so much as a building. As I said, I will also collaborate with experts from the Research Centre for Material Cultures (RCMC), which will be very valuable to support my analysis of the ethnographic objects.

Another thing I want to start thinking about is the role of Hannie in the works that they did together, which were attributed to Aldo van Eyck only. It is very difficult, because little is written about it and you have to rely on oral histories and people’s memories. In the case of these ethnographic objects, I know for instance that they didn’t like the same objects and Hannie also collected things. In the house there are things of Hannie’s and of Aldo’s, and maybe it is interesting to try to identify them and see why they are different and how this impacted the work they did. But again, is it about self-positioning? I am thinking about non-European art but I am western, I am talking about Hannie’s role but I am a man… so I have to see how to somehow cross these cultural and gender boundaries.

Interview: Soscha Monteiro

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Alejandro Campos

Alejandro Campos is an architect and holds a PhD in Architecture (Polytechnical University of Valencia, 2018). He is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at the Department of Architecture, TU Delft, with the research project ‘Multiculturalism in Post-War Architecture’. His research focuses on the history of post-war architectural design, particularly the work of Team 10 and Aldo van Eyck. Alejandro Campos is currently translating The Child, the City and the Artist to Spanish, together with the Arquia Foundation. He has worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Architecture at Aalto University, Finland (2018-2019). In 2018 he cofounded Arqtistic, and architecture+research atelier.

Alejandro Campos is also co-organiser of this year’s Jaap Bakema Study Centre conference: The Observers Observed, Architectural Uses of Ethnography.