Introduction by Brigitte van der Sande
If we see minimalism as a derivative of modernism in art, architecture and music, Jen Alkema is not a minimalist. If, however, minimalism is regarded as a way of thinking shared by numerous cultures throughout the ages, Jen Alkema is a minimalist pur sang.
His minimalism goes beyond an economy of language and material; it is a way of perceiving the world, a personal attitude rather than an application of style or method.
After receiving his degree at The Academy of Architecture (Amsterdam) and reaching the finals of the prestigious Prix de Rome competition in 1995, Jen Alkema turned his focus to the pure essence of architecture: mass, light, structure, repetition, volume, material.
His designs, although austere almost to the point of being chaste, incorporate an innate luxury achieved through the exacting use of materials and attention to detail, a perfection in execution. Paradoxical as it may seem, the creation of this sensuous simplicity demands tremendous skill and discipline.
Alkema’s interiors, often executed in a limited space, exude a feeling of spaciousness, allowing the eye to roam freely, discovering the play of light and shadow, the rhythm of vertical and horizontal planes, the view from one space to another, the tactile opulence of surface materials such as slate, limestone, ebony and oak.
Details serve not as mere decoration, but are a key to understanding the architecture as a whole. Alkema is fascinated by the potential of details, their concentrated power of expression, to influence the experience of space. Alkema’s primary objective is not to produce a definitive work of beauty.
Rather, he creates the conditions that allow beauty to surface.
Every design is reduced to its bare essentials, every element condensed until only the purest of forms remain. This approach requires a deep understanding of the intrinsic nature of architecture and, at the same time, a critical mind that intuitively questions this same quality. Alkema is caught up in an ongoing dialogue with the space, the architectural elements and the materials, until the moment the design process itself takes over and forces him to adhere to the inner logic of the process he himself has set in motion. The design claims its own existence, developing into an undeniable reality.
The architect becomes his own instrument, no longer the master.
Brigitte van der Sande is an art historian and works as a free-lance exhibition organizer, adviser and editor. She is a regular contributor of articles on the visual arts.
Jen Alkema was born into a family of builders, with his grandfather, father and uncle all employed as building contractors.
After having completed his studies at The Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam in 1994, Alkema reached the finals of the 1995 Prix de Rome, a prestigious national competition organized by the Dutch state every five years for architects under the age of 35. In that same year, Alkema established his own architectural firm.
Alkema’s style is characterized first and foremost by its austere nature and use of subtle, reserved detail. His work aims at a sensuous, pure experience of space. It is an architecture stripped of non-essential adornment and embellishment.
Examples of Alkema’s work can be found in and outside The Netherlands, primarily commissioned by private clients.
The scope of his creation ranges from the complete renovation and restoration of existing spaces to the design of new homes, apartments, offices and shops, as well as the design and development of project furnishings.
Alexander van Berge