Dutch design: Mucus in the air


Last year I was asked to write a piece for the ‘City Hotels’ exhibition at Amsterdam’s architecture centre Arcam. My story ended up being about Andaz Amsterdam from Dutch design icon Marcel Wanders. But I also managed to slip in references to being a doorman, eel-pulling, lion shit and being snotty about fringes…

Read it after the jump!

Mucus in mid-air

A few decades ago my first job in Amsterdam was as doorman at the Melkweg. It was a different time; it was an educational time. I learned how to tear a ticket while having a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other. I listened to stories from my hardcore Amsterdammer colleagues about when the city was one big rafelrand – a giant fringe bursting with fringe activities. About sniffy squatters building giant robots to battle police. About lion shit being thrown around to freak out horses pulling royal carriages. And about other things that appealed to my stunted sense of humour – a sense I seemed to happily share with my colleagues. Good times.

By day, I continued my education at the old OBA library on Prinsengracht. Compared to its present location by CS, it was an ugly mess. But at least it had books. In the sprawling section dedicated to Amsterdam, I would leaf pages and scan indexes for appealing terms. That’s how I found out about the ‘Eel Riot’ of 1886. About ‘tobacco-smoke-enema-applicators’. About all the rafelranden of the city’s past. Back at the door, I would share these stories with my appreciative colleagues. Points scored.

Years passed. Amsterdam gentrified. I joined my colleagues in complaining about having to bike further and further out from the centre to discover any quality fringe activities. Some bona fide post-apocalyptic-vibed weirdness. Some updated version of ‘eel-pulling’.

I also gentrified. I applied my accumulated Amsterdam lore to writing guide books and travel pieces. One day, an international style mag sent me to review a newly-opened hotel called Andaz Amsterdam. The location was the old OBA library where I had learned about the city’s deep connection with rafelranden.

Now it was a ‘tribute to the city’ by design wonder boy Marcel Wanders. Naturally, I totally enjoyed the free room and food. But it was all too slick. This wasn’t my Amsterdam. It lacked grit.

After dinner I went downstairs to go to the washroom. There, down a red Lynchian hallway was a display of Wanders’ ‘Airborne Snotty Vases’ based on 3D scans of sneeze mucus in mid-air.

Sure, it was a very small rafelrandje. But at least I didn’t have to bike far to find it.

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Posted in Uncategorized 8 years, 3 months ago at 2:58 pm.

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