By Kirsten Hannema for Modulor Magazine

Donna van Milligen Bielke describes her work as ‘shaping, connecting and reacting to urban tissues’. She takes inspiration from classical archetypes like the Forum Romanum – ‘not as a political, but as a spatial reference.’ Another example is Nolli’s famous ‘reversed’ plan of the city, in which he put the public spaces central instead of the buildings. ‘I’m not an architect who deliberately takes a position, or at least not in relation to others’, says Van Milligen Bielke about her connection to ‘the new Dutch’. ‘I do notice there’s a number of Dutch architects who make use of precedents. I see that we are part of the same period and have things in common, but I’m not trying to fit into this profile. My work is the outcome of a personal fascination: defining space on the border between architecture and urban planning.’ She graduated in 2012 at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture with her bold design Reversed Boogie Woogie, a new building to replace the – much criticized – Amsterdam Stopera (operahouse and town hall, ‘a hulking great affair imperiously blocking the flow of urban space’, as Van Milligen Bielke describes it) with an open and inviting urban structure. The floor plan consists of a 45 degrees twisted grid, similar to Mondrian’s famous painting Victory Boogie Woogie, in which urban interiors gradually transfer into urban tissues. The same theme was the starting point for her design ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ with which she won the Prix de Rome, the most important Dutch prize for young architects, in 2014. The brief was to design an intervention for Rotterdam’s messy city center that was bombed during World War II and never really recovered. Van Milligen Bielke came up with a radical, poetic intervention, framing several isolated iconic buildings with frames of colonnades, walls and buildings. The frames form exciting new public interspaces in which the desolated icons are ‘exhibited’, merging them with the urban tissue outside the historical center. When entering the Prix de Rome she quit her job at Powerhouse Company and started her own office. She designed the interior for the ‘Unfair’ Amsterdam art fair, and made contributions to the publication Building upon Building and the exhibition on the Dutch ‘weaving generation’ in the Deutsches Architecture Museum (DAM) in Frankfurt. In 2017 she won her first tender for a small apartment tower in Amsterdam, construction of which will start in the beginning of 2019. Now that the economy is booming, she wants ‘to focus on projects on the border of building and city’. Together with architect Ard de Vries, who also participated in the DAM exhibition, she won two interesting competitions: for a cultural centre in Utrecht and a theatre complex in Groningen, using the theatre programme to create a series of public gardens and squares.