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An unmitigated pleasure. The Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (‘Rijksbouwmeester’), who is relatively unknown to the general public, makes his debut as the main act in the iconic Dutch VPRO program Zomergasten (‘Summer Guests’). Once upon a time the Architect of the King had an irreproachable position. Nowadays, he is a coordinating advisor in the spatial planning field. However, this position is more relevant than ever. Not least because it is one of the few remaining independent forces that stand for consistency in spatial policy.

The invariably stiffly-pressed blue-shirted Chief Government Architect is in the final throes of his five-year contract and naturally took this opportunity to deliver his famous plea for change through the power of imagination with verve. After all, either you have grown up in the shadow of the best architect-scenarist in the world or you have not. He was listened to admiringly for three hours. In a careful montage of TV excerpts with a personal slant, interspersed with signature thought-provoking aphorisms, he spoke unflinchingly about ‘the art of changing direction’ at a time when fundamental social issues threaten to overwhelm us all: ‘How can we arrange our lives without leaving a trail of destruction.’ ‘Technology cannot save us, the power of imagination can.’ ‘Every innovation begins with a dream.’

Not less but rather more farmers

Add to that some exciting thoughts like, ‘Not fewer but more farmers are needed. Their expertise ought to be utilized. Their efforts should be rewarded more.

Not surprisingly, the reviews were once again rapturous. That’s what should happen! Just a small side note, though. Imagining the future is absolutely essential and deeply inspiring. It is also very seductive, the sheer persuasiveness of such a narrative. But is imagination alone enough? It often ends up going wrong, as the Chief Government Architect he himself has experienced firsthand. Slightly weatherbeaten, manoeuvring cautiously through the minefield surrounding the renovation of the Dutch House of Representatives building. Where the cream of Dutch architecture has its innovative design proposals caught and publicly shredded in the merciless searchlight of opportunism to the point of megalomania. A lack of understanding on both sides. Over and done with. Every city, every village, every project naturally has its own minefield that stands in the way of innovation.


The future is not made just by digging deep into well-intentioned ideological pockets with noble ideas about people, the environment and society. You also need to navigate that minefield. This requires other kinds of instruments than a plea to involve designers in competitions and studies about care and the countryside.

Obviously, this kind of design research is making a great contribution with a variety of innovative solutions out of which a new collective grand narrative for the future can be distilled. But if all that is merely based on an admittedly compelling opinion that is not widely supported, then that is just not enough. That makes the creative elite part of the problem. In that case, the Chief Government Architect will indeed turn out to be just another summer guest.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good.  Here are all the previous articles.