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lecture Jacob Voorthuis: 'Imagining a sustainable future'

Lucas van der Wee

Ahead of our 50th anniversary in 2024, philosopher Jacob Voorthuis gave a lecture at cepezed's office on the 25th of may. ‘Muddling on. Imagining a sustainable future’, was the full title. Voorthuis thinks muddling on shows human resilience and concludes that sustainability is actually a tool, not the purpose.

no sustainable future
Right at the beginning of his talk, Jacob Voorthuis indicates that he could not imagine a sustainable future at all. After all, we as humans would have to change too radically for it to happen. Besides, if we check deep in our hearts what we really want to preserve, he says that it certainly is not the earth. What life - and therefore architecture - is all about, according to Voorthuis, is allowing us to flourish as human beings. Design choices should be made in this light.

His lecture had a great density of information; a lot came along in the space of an hour. Among other things, he gave a brief eulogy on the concept of harmony, which brought him to the 'screw-up point'. Harmony is a term from antiquity, but in 2023, it is still true that the beauty of a design stands or falls with the balance between means and function (at the time, it was about the balance between the bricks and the stacked). In cepezed's designs, for that matter, he believes this works perfectly well. He even finds the Rijkswaterstaat building along the A12 near Utrecht reassuringly beautiful. 'The world is all right' when he drives past it.

muddling as fundament
Muddling along is not a negative thing with Jacob Voorthuis, on the contrary. It is the fundament that allows us to tackle the complexity of an issue, it is the basis of human resilience. The use of 'muddling on' in this way comes from Iris Murdoch, he explains. It is also beautifully expressed by Samuel Becket: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ If we imagine a sustainable future, it would be totalitarian, a straitjacket. And that is directly opposed to pleasant, dignified, muddling along together.

In 2024, cepezed celebrates its 50th anniversary. Leading up to this anniversary, we look back, but also and especially forward. Where will architecture be in 50 years and what does that mean for cepezed at this moment? The lecture by Jacob Voorthuis is the first in a series with this question as the starting point.

Jacob Voorthuis is an art historian and philosopher at the Technical University of Eindhoven.

Lucas van der Wee
Lucas van der Wee
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