Designer’s Studio Attacked by Extremists
Willem van der Sluis’ Sports Domes have attracted world-wide attention for the unusual way they create a sense of space in what is essentially a contained cage – they were never supposed to be controversial.
It is rare that the design world is dragged into political debates and even rarer for designers to be targeted by irritable activists. That’s what happened, however, to Willem van der Sluis of Customr for his famous metal domes.
Neither Van der Sluis nor any public authority would cooperate with design.nl for this article, but according to reports and word on the street, the story went something like this.
The Ministry of Justice contacted Van der Sluis in 2006 to design sporting facilities alongside the docked boats in Zaandam. These boats are used to house illegal asylum seekers. Around that time the right wing Justice Minister, Rita Verdonk, was making headlines for her anti-immigration populist politics, and Holland’s international reputation for tolerance and openness was being challenged.
Van der Sluis’ design solution was a dome fashioned from stretches of patterned metal. From inside the dome, there is uninterrupted dappled light, but from the outside - due to the way light interacts with the patterns and shadows - it is impossible to see in. Security and privacy are guaranteed.
By way of comparison, detention facilities normally use traditional cages for outdoor activities and often with the bottom third made opaque for security. Users can never see the horizon.
Two domes were erected at Zaandam and the Ministry for Justice later contacted Van der Sluis to build another dome inside De Schie, a maximum security prison in Rotterdam.
It was after the Rotterdam jail dome was erected that things started to go awry. In 2008 the domes received a Dutch Design Award for Best Public Interior. Van der Sluis was receiving a lot of press and in interviews sounded conflicted and concerned about what people were saying about his work.
At the same time, more information about where asylum seekers were fleeing from and how most of them could never return home was dominating the Dutch media. Over the ensuing months, the public debate intensified and Holland’s reputation for openness took a bettering.
Then, in the early hours of a Wednesday morning last December, a group of thugs turned up with metal rods, buckets of stench and paint to Van der Sluis’ residence. They attacked his studio, destroying property and scaring neighbours. “NSB’ers” was scrawled across the front wall. NSB was the name of the Dutch political party that supported Hitler’s policies during WWII. Its followers were called NSB’ers, which is now a synonym for traitors and collaborators.
Two days after the attack a post appeared on Indy Media by “Asylum Left Extremists” claiming they had “Paid van der Sluis a visit.”
An important characteristic of Van der Sluis’ design that “Asylum Left Extremists” most likely missed is the dramatic lighting that turns the dome into a glowing beacon at night. In the evenings, the domes become a landmark and are impossible to ignore - physically or intellectually. By making these structures so conspicuous, Van der Sluis is effectively forcing people to confront what is going on within them.
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