Water Cities Rotterdam by Kunlé Adeyemi open at Nieuwe Instituut

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Water Cities Rotterdam by Kunlé Adeyemi open at Nieuwe Instituut
Water. Photo Credit: Aad Hoogendoorn

ROTTERDAM .- Earlier this month Nieuwe Instituut, in Rotterdam, unveiled Water Cities Rotterdam. By Kunlé Adeyemi, a project comprising an exhibition, several floating pontoons, artist installations, and MFS IIR, a stunning seven-metre-high floating wooden pavilion on the insitute’s outdoor ponds. The project marks the first presentation of Nigerian-Dutch architect Kunlé Adeyemi’s award-winning design in the Netherlands.

The various components of Water Cities Rotterdam. By Kunlé Adeyemi at the Nieuwe Instituut form a testing ground to explore historical, present-day, and future design solutions for global climate change. Rising sea levels pose an acute threat to life in wetlands, coast lines and cities worldwide, prompting architects, designers and artists around the world to turn this urgency into innovation.

Presented alongside ground-breaking 20th-century examples of waterborne architecture from the National Collection of Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, held by Nieuwe Instituut, Adeyemi’s floating installation, the other components of the exhibition and the work by artist Thijs de Zeeuw, have been designed in line with the institute’s ‘Zoöp’ principles to accommodate the non-human forms of life it shares the institute’s site with.

Kunlé Adeyemi and MFS IIR

Nigerian-born Kunlé Adeyemi’s Amsterdam-based firm NLÉ has been researching the relationship between water and cities, rising sea levels, and housing shortages for a decade. Inspired by African ‘water cities’ such as Lagos (Nigeria), where rapid urbanisation and escalating water levels lead to considerable challenges and innovative solutions, he has developed a floating, circular building system that demonstrates the potential for architecture to address these complex issues. He has also authored the book African Water Cities, which will be presented at the Nieuwe Instituut on 22 June.

Adeyemi has showcased his floating pavilions in Lagos, Chengdu, Bruges, and the Venice Biennale, where in 2016 his design won the prestigious Silver Lion award. The debut of the seven-metre-high pavilion MFS IIR – Water Cities Rotterdam in the Nieuwe Instituut’s ponds, which has been constructed using materials recycled from the Venice Biennale installation, offers visitors the first opportunity to explore one of Kunlé Adeyemi’s pavilions in the Netherlands.

Exhibition and new works

Inside the pavilion, landscape architect and artist Thijs de Zeeuw has created an artwork that uses an opening in the pavilion’s underside, allowing visitors to experience the pavilion from the perspective of nature (in this context, the pond’s fish), while investigating the consequences of building and living on water for the surrounding ecology and biodiversity.

The several smaller islands in the Nieuwe Instituut’s western pond were also specifically designed as a place for aquatic life such as dragonflies, coots, geese and amphibians, in line with the Nieuwe Insituut’s Zoöp principles, which makes the interests of nonhuman life part of organisational decision making.

The parallel exhibition features innovative buildings constructed on water and with water, drawn from the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning – from floating bike racks in Amsterdam to complete urban extensions. Artist Shertise Solano’s installation, made especially for the exhibition, poetically captures her own fears about water and prompts viewers to consider how they would live or survive in an aquatic environment.

Rotterdam-based design studio Opperclaes has applied a unique cladding to the pavilion and pontoons, created using the cyanotype blueprinting method. The graphic design includes an array of natural materials and objects and was developed in collaboration with young people during a design workshop at STORE Rotterdam.

Exhibition dates and programme

Water Cities Rotterdam. By Kunlé Adeyemi is on display at the Nieuwe Instituut until 22 October 2023. During the exhibition, activities will take place in and around the pavilion, such as introductory tours, workshops, and a special edition of FamilieFest, where families are VIPs for the day. There are also events in collaboration with external organisations, including Rotterdam Architecture Month, Operator Radio, Caribbean Ancestry Club, Roffa Mon Amour, Festival Downtown, African Architecture Matters, and Inside Outside.

Nieuwe Instituut is the Netherlands’ national museum and institute for architecture, design and digital culture. Based in Rotterdam, a global centre for design innovation, the institute’s mission is to embrace the power and potential of new thinking, exploring past, present and future ideas in order to imagine, test and enact a better tomorrow. Encouraging visitors of all ages to question, rethink and contribute, the institute’s exhibitions, public programmes, research, and wide-reaching national and international initiatives provide a testing ground for collaboration with leading designers, thinkers and diverse audiences, critically addressing the urgent questions of our times. 

In addition to housing the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, the institute manages the 1933 Sonneveld House, a leading example of Dutch Functionalist architecture, as part of its campus in Rotterdam’s Museumpark. 

In 2022, the Nieuwe Instituut became the world’s first Zoöp, a ground-breaking model through which all areas of the museum’s operations and programming are informed by its impact and benefit to other forms of life. The institute also serves as commissioner of the Dutch pavilion at the International Architecture Exhibition by La Biennale di Venezia and, in 2023, will act as the Artistic Director of the London Design Biennale in Somerset House (June 1-25, 2023).

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