Checking mails at 6 pm, ©STAR strategies + architecture, Original painting: The Angelus, 1857–59 by Jean-François Millet

Bernd Upmeyer and Beatriz Ramo spoke on behalf of MONU with Kees Christiaanse. Between 1980 and 1989, Christiaanse worked for the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, becoming a partner in 1983. In 1989 he founded KCAP Architects and Planners, which now encompasses 75 collaborators, and offices in Rotterdam, Zurich and London. The interview took place at KCAP’s office in Rotterdam on February 28, 2012.

What is the Rural?

Beatriz Ramo: This issue of MONU is about the rural, the non urban, the country side… We think it is interesting to talk to you, an urban planner, about non-urban topics. How would you define the rural, or what we call “Non-Urbanism”, today?
Kees Christiaanse: If you go in the hardcore urban and the hardcore rural, it is quite simple to define it, but that is maybe not so relevant. It is more significant to talk about the condition in between. And this condition is extremely difficult to define. For instance we are working a lot in Indonesia with our university. If you look at the island of Java, you see that it is as big as England in surface but it has about five times as many inhabitants. Java is extremely dependent on agriculture, but in fact you could also say that the whole island is urban, because it is so densely populated in small patches of farm land, towns and kampungs that we can only conclude that the rural is just a condition of the past. Today it has so many interactions with urbanity that you cannot speak of strictly rural anymore.

Bernd Upmeyer: How do slums fit into the rural/ urban discussion?
KC: If you look at statistics you see that the movement of people from the countryside to the slums leads in most cases to a condition where inhabitants are already reaching a modest lower middle class level by the second generation. This happens through better education, access to mobile phones, multiple choices for work, a minimal level of medical care – facilities which they formerly did not have in the rural condition… Increasingly, the rural condition can not sustain itself anymore; it needs the money sent by the people in the city in order to survive at all. There is a very strong reciprocal relationship between the urban and the rural in which the rural is very fragile but functions as a kind of cultural and ancestral anchor for people that move all over the place – a point of reference.

BU: How would you judge the slums?
KC: Most of the people believe that a slum is bad and that cities should clear them, but the slum is sort of a transitional area. The people who are in the slum, are not there anymore ten years later, they have almost all developed into better conditions and the people who are there are new immigrants. So in that respect the slum is a kind of upgrading and emancipation machine. One should be careful how to deal with it, not immediately tear it down…

…the complete interview was published in MONU #16 on the topic of Non-Urbanism on April 17, 2012.

Title: The New Rural: Global Agriculture, Desakotas and Freak Farms
Project: Interview with Kees Christiaanse
Date: April 2012
Type: Commissioned interview
Topic: Non-Urbanism
Organizer: MONU
Status: Published
Publications: MONU #16, P.4-13
Interviewer: Beatriz Ramo, Bernd Upmeyer