This past Spring, I had the pleasure of working with Elbert Arens, essay writer for renowned Dutch architect Frits van Dongen, on their new retrospective book Frits van Dongen: 25 years, 25 works. The beautiful, shiny red volume is published by Spain’s TC Cuadernos, translated into Spanish and English. The project turned out to be a trilingual collaboration: I translated Arens’s architecture essays from Dutch to English, which were then translated into Spanish. Both translations are printed side-by-side for bilingual reading and accompanied by large, colorful images.
The first essay I worked on, No Dogma, examines the history of Dutch housing and Van Dongen’s undogmatic approach to functionality, quality and diversity. The second piece, « What the hell are we fighting for? » (the title borrowed from a quote by Winston Churchill when he was criticized for spending money on art during war time), discusses the role of architecture in creating living cultural spaces and the « rational exuberance » of Van Dongen’s designs.
Architecture translation can be quite challenging because, like the field itself, it’s so local. Every culture has its own way of building, its own definition of what a « house » is, or what constitutes « quality » in public space. The terminology, even simple words like « normal » and « standard », has to be carefully considered. What is considered « standard » in Dutch housing is hardly « standard » in the UK or North America — or Spain for that matter. I’ve done quite a bit of Dutch-English architecture translation and I like the challenge of finding the right tone: academic, erudite, conceptual yet defiantly down-to-earth.