On 15 February 2016, Het Nieuwe Instituut launched an International Call for Fellows, in search of candidates for a research residency between June and December 2016. By the deadline of 28 March 2016, 243 applications had been submitted. Four candidates — Andrea Bagnato, Simone Niquille, Noam Toran, and Füsun Türetken — were ultimately chosen by a jury comprised of Tom Avermaete (professor of Architecture, Delft University of Technology), Guus Beumer (director, Het Nieuwe Instituut), Anselm Franke (curator, Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Vinca Kruk (designer/artist, Metahaven), Marina Otero Verzier (head of research & development, Het Nieuwe Instituut) and Jana Scholze (associate professor, Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University). The jury also chose to award three applicants — m-a-u-s-e-r, Víctor Muñoz Sanz, and Michèle Champagne — with honourable mentions.
The jury also observed that the application set displayed a very high standard of originality, rigour, and urgency in terms of subjects and methodologies. The number and diversity of applications invites further reflection on the state of contemporary research practices in the fields of design, architecture and digital culture. Het Nieuwe Instituut sees this application set as a valuable resource for understanding current research topics, references, languages, geographies and methodologies, as well as the potential for research in its network, which also offers insight as to how it can best foster and amplify the efforts of the prospective fellows.
This report examines the total application set in order to formulate observations on the characteristics of research and researchers, in both the Dutch and international institutional landscapes. These observations deal with the demographics of researchers and the subjects and methodologies of research, as well as the application format itself. The report therefore attempts to establish patterns about who has responded to the call, how they have responded, and what issues they find most relevant for investigation.
The Call for Fellows was designed to subvert the inertia power of the curriculum vitae in the application and selection processes, and therefore it specifically did not request a CV or a description of previous achievements. Instead, applicants were asked to introduce themselves and the relationship between their proposal and previous projects and interests, in maximum 300 words. The only requirement set by the Call was the eligibility to work in the Netherlands, and the only personal information requested was the applicant's full name and current country of residence. However, in many cases applicants listed personal and professional information of their own volition.
Over 90% of the applications (228) were submitted by individuals. The remaining 15 applications were submitted by groups of 2 or more, from which half (8) represent small studios of 5 to 10 members.
Only 25% of the applicants (60) mentioned their age. Among those who did, the total range was between 23 and 59 years of age, with a peak between 27 and 31 years old (see Figure 1).
While all candidates were required to state their country of residence, over 80% (198) also listed their country of birth. Of 243 candidates, just over half (126) live in the Netherlands (see Figure 2). Just over 40% (53) of these Dutch residents were also born in the Netherlands. For the remainder (73) of foreign-born Dutch residents, the most common countries of origin are, in descending order, Italy, Spain, Germany, UK, Belgium, and Romania. Most of these individuals studied in the Netherlands and remained after the end of their studies as researchers or practitioners.
The rest of the applications came from residents of, in descending order, the UK, the US, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, India, Romania, Switzerland, Canada, France, Israel, Turkey, Finland, Ireland, Poland, and South Africa. One application came from each of the following countries: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Among 243 applications, about two-thirds (160) volunteered some information about their educational and professional background and just over 40% (105) provided detailed CVs.
In general, it could be claimed that the candidates have all received high-level, formal education. All of them have obtained a master’s degree (except two applicants who are currently studying to obtain one). About one-third have multiple master’s specialisations, and another 20% (30) have received or are currently pursuing a PhD.
Some universities figure highly in the educational backgrounds of the applicants (see Figure 3). The most highly represented, in descending order, are: Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam, NL), TU Delft (Delft, NL), Design Academy Eindhoven (Eindhoven, NL), Politecnico di Milano (Milan, IT), Piet Zwart Instituut (Rotterdam, NL), IUAV (Venice, IT), Sandberg Instituut (Amsterdam, NL), Berlage Institute (Delft, NL), Royal College of Art (London, UK), ArtEZ Art Academy (Arnhem, NL), Architectural Association (London, UK), Central Saint Martins (London, UK), Strelka (Moscow, RU), and ETSAM (Madrid, ES).
Other schools represented by one or two applicants include: Amsterdam University of the Arts, Vrije Universiteit, and Jan Van Eyck Academie (NL); LUCA School of Arts Sint-Lukas Brussel (BE); ENSAPL (FR); Merz Akademie (DE); Goldsmiths, Bartlett-UCL, and London School of Economics (UK); ETSAB, ETSAV, IAAC, and IED Barcelona (ES); Aalto University (FI); Columbia University, Yale University, School of Visual Arts, and RMIT (US); and University of Toronto (CA). (See Figure 3 for more detail.)
Among the applicants that voluntarily listed their previous achievements, around one-sixth (40) have previously been awarded fellowships or funding. The most common sources are the Netherlands-based Stimuleringsfonds and Mondriaan Fonds, but applicants have also been awarded the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (NL), Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst (NL), Stiftung Kunstfonds (DE), Oskar Öflund Stiftelse (FI), Fulbright Scholarship (US), Graham Foundation Award (US), NARS Foundation Fellowship (US), Spiro Arts Fellowship (US), Eyebeam Fellowship (US), NYFA Fellowship (US), Google Cultural Institute 89plus Residency (US/FR), TED Fellowship, and more.
The applications represent four general fields of investigation—architecture, design, digital culture, and art—but most took a multidisciplinary approach that crossed the traditional boundaries between fields, or connected the media or methods associated with one field to the subjects or scales of a different field.
Architects made up 38% (92) of the applicants, the largest share. Of these, over half (51) dealt with the design of buildings, while the rest focused on technology, urban planning, interiors, archives, and activism. Designers made up 26% (64) of the applicants, with a range of subjects including design in general, technology, materials, graphic design, spatial design, or curation. New media practitioners (43) and artists (45) each constituted about 18% of the applications. In new media, about one-third (16) focused on digital culture as a contemporary phenomenon, while 40% (18) looked at documentary or film formats. In art, almost half (19) focused on artistic research as a practice in itself. (See Figure 4.)
The Call for Fellows also made specific reference to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s interest in exploring revolution in 2017, the centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution; to the State Archive for Architecture and Urban Planning; and to the programme lines of Landscapes, Interiors, Things, and Materials. The call invited applicants to explain the connection between their research and some or all of these themes, materials, and structures, but also gave them a great deal of freedom to focus on their particular projects.
Among these, several themes were recurrent. Some converged around housing and conditions of inhabitation, focusing on the sharing economy, the complex territory of the interior, itinerant domesticity, or the transformation of a house into a home. Other themes worked across scales, such as transformative revolutions (from the city to the domestic interior), alternative spatial practice (from broad territorial visions to local community activities), technological infrastructures (from smart cities to electronic devices), and migration (from international flows to specific geographic sites characterised by political, social, or economic crisis). Other subjects included material investigations, surveillance, education, augmented reality, public goods and commodities, territorial politics, and avant-garde movements of the past century.
With respect to the timeframe of the research subject, most applicants focused on the 21st century. Less than 10% of the applicants chose to focus on events of the 20th century, while the oldest reference concerned the 18th century. (See Figure 5.)
As in the recurrence of topics, there are also certain words that appear most frequently and give a sense of the language of the applications: research is used 1105 times, followed by new (933), design (850), project (823), space (812), time (805), art (690), architecture (675), work (569), revolution (497), material (438), social (376), people (363), process (327), practice (316), archive (271), information (257), future (239), aesthetic (233), visual (292), contemporary (213), and experimental (70). (See Figure 6.)
In terms of references, the applicants wielded a wide diversity of ideas, concepts, and quotes from theorists and practitioners across many fields, from cinema to architecture, philosophy and literature to technology, art to science, and current news to history. The most common references were philosopher Michel Foucault (15), philosopher Gilles Deleuze (14), architect Le Corbusier (11), philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour (11), architect Rem Koolhaas (10), political theorist Hannah Arendt (9), architect Mies van der Rohe (7), philosopher and economist Karl Marx (7), philosopher Luciana Parisi (6), philosopher and feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti (6), philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre (6), philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard (5), architecture historian Beatriz Colomina (5), philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek (5), sociologist Richard Sennett (4), filmmaker and artist Hito Steyerl (4), philosopher Jacques Derrida (4), philosopher Baruch Spinoza (4), philosopher and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk (4), and novelist and essayist Georges Perec (4). Among these figures, 7 are French, 5 are German, 2 Dutch, 2 Italian, 1 Swiss, 1 Spanish, 1 Slovenian and 1 American in origin.
While most applications were very specific and distinct in their subjects of interest, their methodologies were more abstract and overlapping. The most common methods proposed were historical research, mapping, archival research, interviews, and research through design or art practices; most applicants suggested a range of these activities.
Many applicants proposed to create a network of collaborators beyond Het Nieuwe Instituut alone. Potential collaborators included, among others, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rijksmuseum, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Royal Institute of Dutch Architects, European Space Agency, New Luxor Theatre, Kunstverein Amsterdam, Design museum Gent, L’ENSA de Paris, the Royal College of Art in London, Dazed Media, the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, Yale University, Princeton University, Harvard University, and UN-Habitat.
In other cases, applicants did not name specific institutions but rather the cities or countries that pertained to their research. (See Figure 7.) The research territories spanned 48 different countries in addition to the Netherlands, and can be roughly categorised by different thematic or geographic criteria. These include:
• international (though mostly European) networks of cultural production and recreation
• international sites of economic interest, including ports and special economic zones
• international sites of revolution or protest from the past five years
• international sites of new urbanism, mostly in Africa and former Communist countries
• Middle Eastern sites of international conflict and warfare from the past 15 years
• European centres of the 20th-century avant-garde (including Amsterdam, Zürich, and Italy)
• European sites along the migration route from the Middle East and former Communist countries
• mostly Russian sites related to the early 20th-century Communist revolution
• mostly Dutch sites of advanced technological production
Certain sites or countries were mentioned several times, including Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia, Romania, Istanbul, Cairo, London, Barcelona, and Tokyo.
The Call did not require applicants to anticipate the final outcome of their research, but rather asked for the questions and routines they would pursue, specifically encouraging researchers to pursue alternatives to the expectation of predetermined outcomes. Nevertheless, over 80% (200) of the applicants listed at least one of four concrete forms of output—publication (70), exhibition (50), film or documentary (44), or performative installation (36). Another 10% (25) represents a range of formats including interviews, conferences, games, coding, websites, cartography, etc.
Archives emerged as a reference point in 42% (103) of the applications. One-quarter (61) mentioned the archives of Het Nieuwe Instituut in particular. Among those, more than half (35) had specific plans to search for their proposed subject in the archives; the remainder (26) referred to the archive more obliquely as one of their potential sources. One-eighth of the applications (31) mentioned the archives of other institutions: 9 applications referred specifically to other archives in the Netherlands, while 11 applications described archival research related to the Russian Revolution, early 20th-century Russian art, the Soviet Union, and the development of post-communist architecture and design languages. Finally, about 5% of the applications (11) treated various online networks or indexes as archives for the purpose of their research, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and various blogs.
The 103 archive-related applications appeared to converge around several themes or methodologies. The largest group by far (44) dealt with the subject of revolution, one of the themes for Het Nieuwe Instituut’s 2017 program). 19 applications were related to various revolutionary practices in public space (physical or digital), particularly the aesthetic and theatrical nature of those practices: the most common references were the Russian Revolution, the protests of the 1960s, and global protest movements in the past five years, including the Arab Spring and Spain’s 15M. Modernism and the radical architectures that responded to it were the theme for another 7 applications, with references to CIAM, Team X, the Austrian avant-garde, and Buckminster Fuller. 6 applications looked at radical modes of inhabiting and furnishing interior spaces. 4 applications described experimental practices at the scale of the body, both in the early 20th century and in the era of digital representation. 2 applications focused on alternative ecologies and agricultural systems. Finally, 6 applicants looked at the aftermath of the collapse of communism, including the aesthetics of post-communism and the effects of post-revolution migration.
The second-largest group (20) examined the archive itself and how it deals with the subject of architecture through representation or mediation. 10 applications looked at the materiality of architectural representation in the archive—through drawings, photographs, models, legal documents, books, and events—and how these artefacts relate to the buildings they are meant to depict. 8 applications dealt with the meta-level of the archival system—how it is assembled, digitised, filtered, interpreted, and accessed—in specific institutions as well as online. Another 2 applications looked specifically at the Sonneveld House Museum, an example of Dutch Functionalism designed by Brinkmann and Van der Vlugt in the 1930s and currently managed by Het Nieuwe Instituut alongside its archival collection of Dutch architecture and urbanism.
Meanwhile, 13 applications proposed to search in the archives for documents related to more abstract themes, like emotions, dialogues, power balances, and cognitive structures for understanding the world, as well as for particular formal gestures. These applications raise the question of how large institutional collections can be approached in unconventional ways. Perhaps these archives could be made open to advanced software for language analysis and image recognition, in order to enable researchers to look beyond the traditional classifications of title, author, year, medium, subject tags, etc. (See Figure 8.)
One candidate also made the case for avoiding archival research (although he included historical references in his application). The candidate argued that, over the past century, architects have increasingly relied on methods borrowed from other disciplines for design experimentation. In contrast, the candidate advocated for the validity of the design process as a research tool that can be equally systematic, rigorous, and relevant for other fields, invoking a fundamental debate about research in both creative fields and cultural institutions, which should be continually discussed over the coming years.
A vast majority of applicants included visual material in their proposals, although it was not strictly required. 192 applications contained at least one image, with a maximum of 21 images used in a single application. The average application used 5 (median) to 7 (mean) images.
The visuals used are heterogeneous, but they can be divided into several categories. About 60% of all images used were made by the candidates themselves, while about 40% images were made by others and used as references for the applications. Among the entire image set, 30% were photographs, 18% showed objects, books, or graphics, 15% showed performances or exhibitions, 10% were film stills, 4% were collages, 4% showed people, 3% were maps, and 2% were paintings. The images of objects, books, or graphics were the most likely to be original images, while the photographs were most likely to be references from other authors. (See Figure 9.)
In terms of typography, the applicants used 67 different typefaces. 75% of the applications used sans-serif typefaces, while 25% used serif typefaces. The most frequently used typefaces were Helvetica or Helvetica Neue (40), Arial (31), Calibri (29), Times or Times New Roman (24), and Minion (11), accounting for 55% of all the applications. Among the remaining 45% of the applications, 18 typefaces were used two to six times and 44 typefaces were used only once. (See Figure 10.)
Among these typefaces, the American company Monotype Imaging holds the rights to Helvetica and Helvetica Neue, Times and Times New Roman, and Arial; all of these fonts are available in the standard package of the Apple operating system (and Helvetica tends to be the default typeface for Apple software), while all but Helvetica and Helvetica Neue are included in Microsoft Office. Calibri belongs to the American company Microsoft (and is the default font for Microsoft Office), while Minion belongs to the American company Adobe. The typefaces were mostly created by designers from Switzerland (Helvetica by Max Miedinger), Great Britain (Times New Roman by Victor Lardent, Times by Stanley Morison, Arial by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders), the Netherlands (Calibri by Lucas de Groot), and the United States (Minion by Robert Slimbach).
More than half of the applications from architects used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, Arial, and Calibri, while more than half of the applications from media artists or filmmakers used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, Arial, or Times or Times New Roman. Two-thirds of the applications from writers or curators used Times or Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Writers and curators were equally likely to use serif or sans-serif typefaces, unlike the other applicant groups (who all preferred sans serif typefaces).
On the other hand, no product or graphic designers used Arial or Calibri. Product and graphic designers were more likely to select different typefaces, and they were the only groups to use monospaced sans-serif fonts. Among product designers, 40% used unique typefaces and another 40% used a typeface shared with one to five other applications. Among graphic designers, 50% used unique typefaces, while 20% used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue. These statistics may suggest that product and graphic designers, more than other groups, treated the application PDF as a design artefact rather than simply a tool of communication. They also suggest that product and graphic designers tend to use Apple rather than Microsoft operating systems.
More than 90% (223) of the applications were laid out in portrait orientation.
Between the announcement of the call on 15 February 2016 and the deadline on 28 March 2016, 243 applications were received. Two applications were submitted on the first day, while two-thirds of the applications (165) were submitted on the last day and one-quarter of the applications (58) in the week before the deadline.
The Call for Fellows was Het Nieuwe Instituut’s first open invitation to researchers around the world to submit their proposals for a fellowship. The response was extremely high—243 applicants for three positions, later expanded to four in light of the promise shown by the applications. The selected fellows and the vast majority of the applications demonstrated depth, rigour, originality, urgency, and great relevance for Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Diversity in Demographics
As the data show, the call, which had no prerequisites or age limits, attracted a wide diversity of applicants—a range of ages from early 20s to late 50s, 40 countries of origin, over 30 different educational backgrounds, and a wide variety of research methods, subjects, and outputs. At the same time, about one-third could be said to fit within a certain category: a researcher in their late 20s or early 30s, residing in the Netherlands (often with a different country of origin, particularly another European country), with a master’s degree (usually from a Dutch institution). This demonstrates the interest of graduates from Dutch universities and academies in further opportunities for research within an institutional context.
The data may be useful to think about additional ways that this group can be encouraged and supported. It calls for further reflection on the asymmetry between institutes of advanced education (and the governmental bodies on which they depend), which foster and encourage high-level research practices, and the landscape of working practice after graduation, in which opportunities to continue this research are relatively scarce. In the Netherlands, the entire institutional landscape—education, culture, and governmental bodies—should work together to acknowledge and facilitate continued research beyond that which is already possible in pursuit of an academic degree. In particular, independent and cultural institutions could provide the frameworks to host such research endeavours. Additionally, aspiring researchers in the Netherlands could be served by a communication network, shared spaces, or organised discussions in order to give each other feedback and find connections between their practice.
Still, this group of recent master’s graduates in their late 20s or early 30s, living in the Netherlands, only represents one-third of applications. It is important that the Call continues to attract an application pool of all ages, and that they continue to be represented by the jury selection. Research has no age limit and is not exclusive to institutions of higher education (which face pressures towards increasing professionalisation of research); rather, it is an intrinsic part of the practice of architecture, design and digital culture. This approach to inclusivity should also be reflected in other categories, as much as possible, using documents such as this one to analyse in detail the response to the Call for Fellows.
Maximum efforts should also be made to disseminate the Call for Fellows in multiple virtual channels and physical spaces. It is currently hosted on Het Nieuwe Instituut’s website and has been shared through an e-flux posting, personal e-mails, social media, and various residency aggregator websites. What kind of audience do these channels entail, and who do they miss? For example, the predominance of architecture-related applications may relate to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s physical presence in the former Netherlands Architecture Institute. While we assume that information circulates freely in a completely mediated landscape, there remain certain borders and geographies that shape who can access these communication technologies and messages. Het Nieuwe Instituut should monitor how the Call for Fellows is encountered and understood, and ensure that the results of the research fellowship as well methods such as jury selection continue to bring awareness of the opportunity to new territories and populations, in an ever-growing network.
Expanding research territories
The application set, despite its great diversity of subjects and approaches, reveals a high degree of sensitivity to the place and potential of design practices in a world increasingly shaped by logistical systems, wealth disparities, and seamless, constant technological observation. It is clear that applicants see architecture, design, digital culture as politically, socially, and economically implicated fields of practice; at the same time, they retain an implicit confidence in the ability of creative research to document and respond to scenarios in unpredictable ways, which can subvert the way solutions are developed in other fields such as governments, financial markets, scientific laboratories, or startup hubs.
The issues at stake in these applications tend to reflect and propagate a global understanding of certain issues such as housing, the sharing economy, surveillance, migration, international finance, and itinerant practices and networks. The sites named by applicants as points of interest support the same conclusion, showing a large geographical range beyond the Netherlands and its neighbouring countries. In particular, many applicants expressed an interest in the urban characteristics, cultural evolutions, and social practices of former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and sites of recent conflict in the Middle East. While these interests could be explained by the urgency of ongoing war or increasing access to travel and archives in Eastern Europe, there may be other reasons why researchers in the Netherlands are intrigued by the concept of “otherness” inherent in such sites. One reason may be the failure of post-war European liberalism to produce a more tolerant, fair society, and a resultant search for possible conclusions from other historical narratives. There is a risk, however, that such curiosity reflects a form of new “Orientalism” rather than a truly open-ended research imaginary.
Tellingly, the quotations referenced in the applications show a strong Western European bias that does not fully correspond to the themes or places mentioned by the applications. Given the frequently expressed interest in sites in former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and sites of recent conflict in the Middle East, there is a notable absence of critical voices native to those cultures. (Slavoj Žižek is the only figure from outside Western Europe or America to be referenced in multiple applications.) This theoretical blindspot must be addressed by different academic and cultural institutions (including Het Nieuwe Instituut) as they develop their libraries, events, archives, and canons. Such systems can be used to promote voices, discourses, and references originating from beyond the traditional sites of knowledge production and validation in a few Western European cities.
Intra- and extra-institutional research practices
One notable trend in the applications was the suggestion to collaborate with multiple institutions besides Het Nieuwe Instituut. This positions the contemporary fellow or researcher as a liminal figure between different institutional frameworks. The interdisciplinary researcher is possibly better served by a patchwork of institutional resources and services sourced from various sites and kinds of organisations, rather than by a long-term position within a single institution. At the same time, the trend reflects the growing need for public visibility and interaction in research; thus, the applicants often proposed to structure the collaborations around workshops, interviews, installations, events, exhibitions, conferences, joint research, and archival explorations. The applications from current PhD students also show an interest in exploring and disseminating research that lies outside of the topic or format specified by their particular university.
The high incidence of references is one indicator that applicants are very conscious of framing their research plan as the outcome of a particular position towards the structures and systems of the contemporary context. In general, the applications devoted more words to explaining this personal position as a beginning point for their research, rather than to defining a concrete methodology for their research. The open-ended research approach was encouraged by Het Nieuwe Instituut, but it also highlights the freedom felt by architects, designers, artists, and other creative practitioners in their understanding of a research fellowship. Most applicants proposed methodologies that expanded significantly on the specific skill-set associated with their educational background, and many referred to investigative approaches adapted from the humanities or social sciences.
Almost half of the applications related to the archives of Het Nieuwe Instituut as well as other institutions in the Netherlands and around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia. While the vast majority of proposals demonstrate a forward-looking interest in current and future questions rather than historical ones, there is still a clear interest in reflecting on historical material and investigating its relevance for contemporary issues, and this interest should be encouraged and developed as a counterbalance to the pursuit of the new inherent to most fields of creative production. At the same time, one candidate made a strong case for the validity of design itself as a research tool, arguing that the creative process can be just as systematic, rigorous, and revelatory as more traditional research methods (such as textual analysis, statistics, and scientific experiments). In that sense, the fields of architecture, design, and digital culture also have the potential to generate research approaches for other academic fields. This argument is part of a fundamental debate about research in both creative practice and cultural institutions, which should be continually discussed over the coming years in parallel to and intersecting with the production of research itself.
This report was commissioned by the Research & Development (R&D) department at Het Nieuwe Instituut. The data collection, analysis, and graphics were done by architect and researcher Claudia Mainardi, with editing, interpretation, and conclusions by the R&D team (Marten Kuijpers, Landscape and Interior; Tamar Shafrir, Things and Materials; Katía Truijen and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Digital Culture; Marina Otero Verzier, head of Research & Development).