Castle AlmereThe sentiment that the ruins of a castle can stir up has nothing to do with the pride a knight must have felt when the castle had just been completed. While the stones of a new castle or palace are all in exactly the same state – neatly finished, perfectly aligned – in ruins, each stone is different, marked by life in its own way, just as every old tree trunk has its own character while saplings are dime a dozen.
- (Dekkers, 1997, p.29-30)
A vision of the ruin as essentially an accommodation between nature and culture, the artificial object sliding imperceptibly towards an organic state, until in the end nature has its way and we can no longer legitimately speak of a ‘ruin’ at all . - (Simmel, 1911, p.13)
I visit a castle. It’s an ordinary Wednesday in January of 2014. This castle was built in 2000 and is located in the new town Almere, just next to Amsterdam. Yes, a castle in New Almere at the Oude Waterlandseweg. I peek through the fence. And I see an incredible building: large, kitsch, imposing, modern and classic. The picture I had in my mind is not comparable with my embodied experience. The castle is only half built, a process of decay is on-going and the unfinished building has turned into a ruin. A modern ruin. The investor has left his land. The static building has become an organism. There is a struggle going on between nature and culture. A small tree grows in the atrium. The elevator shaft serves as a shelter for nesting birds and ants probably slowly break down the concrete floors. We can only watch and enjoy the unfolding scene. The landlord closes his eyes for this process. Instead, he still envisions the potential of the castle as a party centre and hotel. Fences keep the viewer at a distance. Fences keep the viewer away from the decay.
Losing control is for me the essence of a ruin, which goes against our natural behaviour. I think that this is the biggest difference between a classic and a modern ruin. Classical ruins, think of castles, are kept in a particular state. It is an outdoor museum, where every stone is nicely kept and maintained. What is left is a physical photo montage of a middle ages castle. Each generation has added or removed parts. The pile of stones gives you only the feeling of the original castle. I think that Simmel’s quote describes what a modern ruin is; a building that is changing and is being taken over by nature. In this process the construction becomes visible. When I visited the castle of Almere I saw an interesting contradiction. A new castle, whose design is based upon an old castle named ‘Jemeppe-Hargimont’. The new castle is unfinished and it became a ruin. This modern ruin shows our shortcomings and the strength of the building.
The film Castle Almere shows the history and the future of the castle of Almere. It looks at the story behind the castle, how it became a ruin and the roles of the different parties involved. Myself and Roosje Verschoor, a visual artist and photographer, interviewed and filmed people who were a part of the project, such as initiators, builders, architects, investors, aldermen and inhabitants. In addition to the film I made a sculpture depicting the future of the castle of Almere, and how it will look if it crumbles down. Even this sculpture did not succeed in his planned form and fell apart after four levels. The ironic failure of constructing a deconstruction.
Sources Dekkers (M). The way of all flesh. London, Harvill Press, 1997, pp 29, 30 Simmel (G). The Ruin . Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2011, pp 13