Jan Rothuizen, Process

Jan’s current project is fascinating – combining two of my favorite things, architecture and maps. He has been commissioned to create a gift booklet for workers of an out of date government building that will soon be vacated. The building is massive and very quirky in design, and has proved too hard to renovate for today’s transient work environment and communications infrastructure. Jan’s vision is to capture the collective memories that filled the building, with all its quirks and charm. He showed me several pdf “sketches” of the layout that combine drawings and photography. The photos perfectly capture the “out of date” and faded quality of the building. A few spreads feature the sprawling floorplan. The building’s footprint is an odd chain of octagons and reminds me of a symbol you might find on an alien spacecraft. Around the floorplans, in Jan’s signature handwriting, are short anecdotes, conversations and facts about the offices and people. There are also spreads that feature a particular offices, like that of one director, pointing out furniture and other affects within the room.

As Jan takes me through the process, it clear there is much more to this work than him sitting in a café doodling up some ideas. No, this project, like many of his other projects involves an entire team. He tells me for four days, he and three other people set up shop in the building and asked people to drop by and tell them stories about the building and what goes on there. He shows me many typewritten pages of notes from the conversations, with each entry numbered for cross-reference to the final booklet. (I suspect these same pages were passed around the company for approval as well.) He works with photographers and journalists to pull the information together to create the story. Sketches are done to determine how to best put things together. Normally, Jan said he would hand draw the floorplans, as he did with the Rijksmuseum project, but he felt this particular floorplan would blend in too much, possibly due to its honeycombed nature. He opts to leave it “mechanical” to contrast with the hand drawn text and small illustrations that surround it. It all works well together.

Once the proof of concept is approved, the team sets to work on pulling all the details together and creating the spreads. With Jan’s direction, his assistants help with the actual compositions and drawing of the imagery in pencil: the maps/floorplans, the building, the rooms. The woman at the table where we sit is working in pencil on an illustrated path through the building. I can see little vignettes connected by lines and staircases. The other woman is inking the façade of building that is ringed by text that Jan has already inked. It’s always his handwriting. I can see faint pencil lines on the paper, which will be erased later.

The building was built in the 1980s. It’s not old (especially by European standards), but has been deemed too unwieldy to salvage. In my mind I picture strings of powercords running across rooms to accommodate various twenty first century devices, worn out indoor/outdoor carpeting (possibly gold’ish color), wasted space nooks due to the odd building footprint and personal affects taped to desks and walls – to sort of warm the place up. Plus that scrawny office plant that seems to hang on living.

Jan’s overall design and drawings capture the sentimentality perfectly. I suspect the recipients of this book will treasure it.