4th UNS Conference : Politics + Society

Personal to Local ambitions

We began our discussion with an example of how politics have changed the nature of a project to make it stronger. The Erasmus Bridge was placed high on the political agenda, raising the ambition level of the project. With that came the need to have an eye for all details. Media and politics have made it an icon of the city of Rotterdam that it is today.

Political and social Responsibility

A topic that came up several times was the social responsibility of the architectural practice. As we are not always the world changers of the past, the discussion team looked for a balance in the work. We may need to ‘play’ in the different political fields and bring about debate on ways to improve or influence systems. This led to social contributions being proposed showing the social architecture such as architects for humanity. We like to demonstrate a positive and tangible impact to the built environment of society.

A new UNS network?

What would be ways UNS could best perform abroad? How the studio could benefit from being local? As an international office we need experience with local rules and regulations.
Perhaps not in the detail but a understanding to guide the design on essential
matters. Something you can outsource, as is done with local architects for
Canaletto and V on Shenton.


We discussed that based on location, the responsibility of architecture offices is different. This turns a UNS office into a system not much different than a franchise. Using the UNStudio principles but acting by local rules and regulations within the politics and society.

We see that the danger in this lies in the fact that you get too comfortable in a system. Often we are asked to partake because of a fresh approach or alien perspective. A certain edge an office can lose when not every now and then being pushed out of its comfort zone.

Political Response

We are witnessing a shift in the focus of our work from Europe to countries around the world that are often running on a very different political model. What influence does this have on the way we work? Faced with a job that contradicts our moral values and political beliefs we discussed 3 principle responses:

During the discussion a sequence of questions arose, such as

Politics is just another tool…

We may struggle with the understanding of political systems that are alien at first glance just as the Dutch system feels alien to any expat joining our Amsterdam office.  But working within current political systems can greatly benefit the outcome of a design. This leads to the question: Should we refrain from using our own influence on the system to benefit the practice while the Architecture lobby is getting more and more important?

Working in new markets we are exposed to new contexts and cultures that are new and often unfamiliar to us. Rather than seeing this as a problem we discussed how we can unfold the creative potential of this situation. Embracing the fact that we are fresh—or even naïve—in a new context may enable us to come up with new and innovative ideas. Using the partnership with local design partners as a sounding board makes sure that our design respects soft rules and local code that we may not be familiar with. From the evaluation of past experience we concluded that concentrating our design vision in one strong idea that functions as a container for the project helps us to develop and communicate these projects.

Posted by: UNStudio / Jan Schellhoff + Sander Versluis