MVRDV - Architecture taking action: MVRDV and The Why Factory exhibition in Paris positions design as a tool to make the world a better place

Architecture taking action: MVRDV and The Why Factory exhibition in Paris positions design as a tool to make the world a better place


“Architecture and urbanism are calls to action” – that is the central principle behind MVRDV’s newest exhibition, Agir!, that will open at the ArchiLib Gallery in Paris on June 10. Taking its name from the French verb meaning “to take action”, the exhibition examines MVRDV’s work through an explicitly activist framing. The ideological underpinning for this framing comes from a “bucket list” developed by MVRDV, comprising 44 goals for the future of our world, from “biodiverse”, “self-sufficient”, and “green” to “collaborative”, “democratic”, and “beautiful”.

The first exhibition focused primarily upon MVRDV’s broad portfolio of work in France, Agir! presents over fifty projects, positioning the firm’s French work within their broader oeuvre of international projects and research. Each project is accompanied by a punchy “slogan” – inspired by the language of activism and protest – that captures the essence of the project, highlighting how each design challenges the status quo and paves the way for a better future.

The exhibition also includes the work of The Why Factory, the think-tank established at TU Delft by MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas in 2007. Forming a symbiotic relationship with the designs of MVRDV, the research at the Why Factory investigates the future of the city and the planet to produce observations, hypotheses, and statements in a visual and direct manner. The exhibition gives special focus to a presentation of the think-tank’s newest publication, (w)Ego, which will be launched during the exhibition.

“When I founded MVRDV alongside Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries, we were strongly motivated by a desire to do things differently, to make the changes in the world that we thought were necessary,” says Winy Maas. “I am proud to say that almost 30 years later, that spirit is still fundamental to our office – even while the challenges that we face as a species only grow more urgent. This was part of the reason for the foundation of The Why Factory: I wanted something that was independent, so we could research without thinking about the immediate needs of an architecture firm, but which nonetheless could help inform the future vision of the company. With this exhibition we want to challenge our colleagues, in a way: what kind of future do you want to see?”

The projects are printed in chronological order on a 78-metre-long fabric curtain that is tightly folded into the gallery’s small floorplan. This density of information highlights the intensity of action required to tackle the challenges afflicting society, the environment, and the world at large. To magnify this sense of urgency, the exhibited works are accompanied by graphics on the floor that show the condition of the polar ice caps at various moments in the project timeline.

Despite the seriousness of this framing, the tone of Agir! is, at its heart, optimistic. It shows how, through their work, architects can fight against global injustices and presents idealistic architecture not as a mere utopian speculation, but as a pragmatic possibility. This is underscored by the exhibition’s final component; connected to the ArchiLib gallery, via a patio at the rear of the space, the exhibition continues into the ground floor of MVRDV’s own Paris office, which during the exhibition will be open to the public for the first time. Here, the exhibition presents models of projects currently in progress, following the style of Parisian ateliers d’artistes. In this way, visitors not only experience MVRDV’s history of architectural action, but also see actions which are still being taken, in the place where they are being carried out.

Agir! will open to the public on June 10 at the ArchiLib Gallery in Paris (located at 49, Boulevard de la Villette). The exhibition will be on show until July 26; the gallery is open Mondays-Fridays from 09:30 to 18:00, and Saturdays from 14:00 to 18:00.