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The remote fieldwork exercise seeks to connect the architectural projects kept in the national collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut with a field survey of the actual built spaces. To this end the South African PhD researcher Jhono Bennett investigated the urban spaces of the famous Lijnbaan shopping street in Rotterdam, designed by the Van den Broek and Bakema office and realised in 1953.

Behind this is the wish to reconnect the archive with the city, so to speak, connecting the spaces of ideas with those of lived reality. It then becomes possible to tell a story about the original design intentions, architectural design and its media, as well as the afterlives of the built projects.

The Lijnbaan was heralded as a triumph of modernist architecture planning, celebrated by the urban theorist Lewis Mumford among others. Today the Lijnbaan is listed as a national monument and has gone through several cycles of renovation.

To further probe the special qualities and conditions of the Lijnbaan, the Rotterdam shopping street is contrasted with a similar project in Johannesburg, South Africa: the Small Street shopping mall. Density, demography and socio-economic conditions could not be more different, yet the Small Street shopping mall follows similar typological traits to Rotterdam’s Lijnbaan – in particular, the idea of a pedestrianised street which connects a series of urban blocks.

To compare the two shopping streets, archival materials have been combined with social media technologies, including street films and interviews documented with a smart phone. Here, the remote aspect becomes crucial: proxy researchers were sent out to the actual site to make films and talk to visitors. Bing van der Meer, an architecture student at TU Delft and originally from Rotterdam, and architect Siwe Mathenjwa from Johannesburg, took it upon themselves to do the fieldwork. As a first result, a collection of these combined visits, films and reflections are published here.

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Jhono Bennett

Jhono Bennett is the co-founder of 1to1 – Agency of Engagement, a design-led social enterprise based in Johannesburg. His practice-led research interests are driven by issues of inclusive design approaches, spatial justice, critical positionality, and urban planning in South African cities. Bennett is a PhD candidate with the Bartlett School of Architecture in London in the framework of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie project TACK. Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing coordinated by the ETH Zurich, which included a research secondment at Het Nieuwe Instituut.