And the winner of the Young Maaskant Prize 2017 is… Arna Mačkić
As a jury, we looked at young architects, landscape architects, and urbanists. We sought up-and-coming talent, whose age confines the amount of projects they have realised, but who, through their vision and design strengths, already prove they possess special qualities and offer great promise for the future.
Our research encountered many styles, strategies, visions, and expressions. The six designers comprising our eventual shortlist have all contributed, very personally, to the role of the designer: the designer as a choreographer, social engineer, master designer, storyteller, creative entrepreneur, and freethinker.
In some respects, these approaches are incomparable. Fortunately, from the outset, one nominee’s oeuvre strongly emphasised the personal, socially committed, poetic, diverse, powerful, and intelligent.
When we were researching our shortlist, she was aged 29 and still studying at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. She has written an award-winning book, worked for a leading office for seven years, founded her own bureau, realised projects, organised public debates, and was appointed as head of the architecture department at the Amsterdam Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Her name is Arna Mačkić.
Arna Mačkić was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1988 and grew up in Capljina. When she was five, her parents fled to the Netherlands, where the family found shelter in an asylum seekers centre in Putten. After high school, Mačkić studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy’s Architectural Design department and continued her studies at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. In 2017, she attained her Master of Architecture with a design (made with Lorien Beijaert) proposing an Institute of Human Rights, an inclusive and democratic place, on Het Plein in The Hague.
While studying at the Rietveld Academy – then aged 19 – she was accepted by RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances), where she was closely involved in high-profile projects at home and abroad. She was also an executive architect of The End of Sitting, a design study about standing work. Alongside this, she worked on her book. Last year, she founded Studio L A with Lorien Beijaert.
In 2013, she received a talent development grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL, giving her the opportunity to research her family city, Mostar, and the role architecture played at pivotal moments in the history of the Balkans.
This resulted in Mortal Cities & Forgotten Monuments, a publication – as equally beautiful as it is critical – that describes her personal recollections of returning to Bosnia, six years after fleeing, to find a broken, divided city, where Muslims and Catholics live apart from one another, and how she decided to use her skills to bring people together.
In her book, she suggests that the perfect reconstruction of Stari Most – Mostar Old Bridge – which was blown up in the war, was a denial of the war and its consequences. Instead of the form, she focuses on the social use of the former bridge: youngsters from different backgrounds would dive off the twenty-four-meter-high bridge to prove their masculinity. Thus, she designed a monumental seating tribune whose summit can function as a diving platform.
In 2015, the first edition of Mortal Cities won both the Best Dutch Book Design and the Design Research category of the Dutch Design Award. Since then, she has spoken at congresses in Stockholm and Beirut about reconstruction architecture in war-torn cities such as Beirut and Aleppo.
Rowan Moore, the architecture critic for The Guardian, selected the most recent issue of Mortal Cities & Forgotten Monuments for his list of the best architecture books of 2016.
Mačkić also regularly publishes articles and essays, including guest contributions to Harvard Design Magazine and Kunstlicht, and lectures internationally. These activities sharpen her thinking and reach a broader, more international audience.
With De Balie debating centre, she organised two evenings in which designers, academics, policymakers, and an international audience discussed architecture’s role in creating inclusive cities.
With Studio L A, she designed the Lekker Licht exhibition at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, which ingeniously integrates individual light-based artworks into a more extensive sculptural installation.
Made with Lorien Beijaert, the spatial design for the Unfair alternative art fair provided young artists with booths to show their work while concurrently allowing the participants to consider each other’s practice through the interplay of open and closed walls and diagonal planes. This design resulted in a coulisse effect, with partially overlapping sight lines and accentuating contrasts of depth and light.
Studio L A’s office is in Lola Lik, a creative hub development adjacent to the old Bijlmer prison that is now an asylum seekers centre. Together with the people of Favela Painting, Mačkić and Beijaert made paintings and signage for the refugee centre. For the International Social Housing Festival, they analysed the suitability of this former prison as temporary housing for 600 refugees, proposing to remove bars from the windows, contrary to the wishes of the Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). The tenacity with which they defended this proposal speaks of their dedication to being designers with a social conscious.
Arna Mačkić designs, researches, writes, teaches, and initiates. She gives lectures and instigates debates on the function and power of public space. She made an impression as a guest speaker during a meeting organised by the Rijksbouwmeester (Chief Government Architect) about the growing social-cultural divide in society and how designers, as well as managers, both nationally and locally, can respond to this. This alone demonstrates design’s power because designing is much more than just the making of a design.
By focusing on problems and challenges and defining tasks, she directly and indirectly influences spatial design in the Netherlands and beyond. Mačkić’s analytic capabilities and independent position are beyond doubt. Through frequent, intensive partnerships – with other architects and with artists, lecturers, and programmers – her vocabulary is rapidly developing.
A signature design style is also emerging, which is characterised by her use of robust materials and forms and the frequent use of triangles, wedges, and diagonals. She refers to the symbols of monumentality and power, from pyramids to Stealth Bombers, but by insisting on their human dimension, she deprives their imminent and totalitarian character.
Her project Jump for Mostar is both a big grey sign and, at the same time, a public space for different uses and users. Similarly, her design for the Unfair art fair initially looks monumental and hermetic but opens up in a myriad of ways through a refined play of light, demonstrating her signature of ‘monumental humanity’.
Mačkić has an acute sense of the zeitgeist: she seeks pivotal, contemporary social issues – the search for (national) identity, contradictory positions within populations, inclusion and exclusion mechanisms, refugees – and reflects on them through writing and design.
As an architect and designer, Mačkić emphatically adopts a political and social stance. She seeks an ‘inclusive architecture’ that strengthens collective identity, without obscuring differences and history. She heals wounds and renovates that which is devastated, revealing scars and shadows in the process. She contests architecture’s isolationist and exclusive assumptions, especially when its approach is inattentive to its social role and consequences. She creates new forms of the public domain that both seek and stimulate interaction.
Mačkić believes that social engagement is not without obligation. The deliberate inclusion of her personal history heightens the work’s strength and depth. Probing and doubtful, yet with determined precision, Mačkić is a pioneer in exploring new ways to overcome the present-day impasse in society. She rejects villas and ivory towers in favour of living monuments and democratic spaces.
Mačkić’s work researches underlying social narratives. The jury recognises the echo of now revised ideals – e.g. the personal is political – while noting the absence of sweetness or softness in her designs: what she makes is robust, monumental, and challenging.
Aware and fearless, she raises her head above architecture’s parapet. She sees architecture’s continued importance, especially within the current political climate. Her straightforward ideas and designs absorb and transform extreme contradictions into a shared history and sense of community, thus laying a foundation for our future.
We look forward, with anticipation, to the future direction her work shall take.
Jury – Tijs van den Boomen (journalist and city researcher), Elma van Boxel (founder ZUS and 2007 Young Maaskant Prize winner), and Michiel van Iersel (Non-Fiction, Failed Architecture).