Henk Ovink
Director for National Spatial Planning
Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment

by Christa van Vlodrop

1. Background

Raised in a family with three generations of architects. I studied math, art and architecture in Groningen, The Hague and Delft. I started out with my own firm and then co-founded Bureau Kroner, after that I deliberately switched to the government. For the connection to politics, the improvement and necessary change in the civil service and the positioning of content and design. As director of national spatial planning I feel very comfortable with this assignment.

2. Why are you fascinated with
architecture / urban development?

The power is in the city, 50% and later 75% of our population lives in cities, real city power. This continuing urbanization means that the economic, social and environmental problems we face are increasingly spatial issues. The confrontation of these issues has a maximum spatial impact on our cities and urban regions. In that confrontation, in the city, also lay the answers. In the city, the answers are created, built and developed. That confrontation eventually will intensify.The city makes this confrontation productive.

3. Best city

New York, the first time I was there was in 1987. I wanted to stay a week, but had to go to my brothers wedding in Miami, I postponed my leaving New York as long as possible. I keep going back to: work, walk, eat, meet, see, smell, talk and speak. A real city of verbs: each time a different scene.

4. Most beautiful building

Das Gelbe Haus, in Flims, from Rudolf Olgiati. Wonderful transformation: an almost real distortion of the existing plan of use, roof, construction and use of materials all the way up to the detailing of the facade. The house stands in the mountain village of Flims, in the foggy bend of the main street.

5. Most beautiful park or square

The National Mall in Washington DC, because it makes politics tactile, it gives the city structure and provides a public space. It's a lovely place to enjoy a book in the sun, coffee and a bagel, children playing and to witness the inauguration of the president. Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo: with the best covered skating area, beautiful architecture of Niemeyer and a cultural public space, with museums and theater that is really public and is really used as a public space.

6. Best public facility /
urban infill

The streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Nothing is done, nothing more to do. And more sophisticated the High Line. This is also an example of public planning where the rights are traded with skyscrapers to build 'sky' elsewhere in the city for this 'park in the sky' to protect light, air and space.

7. Best 20th and 21st century innovations

The first video game 'Tennis for Two': predecessor of Pong, invented in 1958 by William Higinbotham, an American physicist. Higinbotham wrote “It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society." YouTube, founded in 2005 by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim.

8. Next groundbreaking innovation

Governance? Cities make the difference. If Europe was a federation of cities then Istanbul would be it's leading city. Would we be able to control our countries as urban, as mayors? What would it need and what would it demand from it's new town council? And from the EU? Does this mean that we could eliminate national borders? And that we as nation-states abandon the regional agenda, but firmly choose an international perspective? Finally real investments in education, research and innovation. Not the endless subsidies in production that only disrupt the market development. Ensure that there is enough room for talent, talent development and a stream of initiatives.

9. About the future of cities

Sekethu Mehta wrote in Maximum City "A city is an agglomeration of individual dreams, a mass dream of the crowd. In order for the dream of the city to stay vital, each individual dream has to stay vital." The city is the future and is always different.

10. Personal contribution to urban development

Initiator of Design & Politics in research and education (Chair Design and Politics TU Delft), policy (Architecture Memorandum, Randstad2040, Olympic Main Structure 2028, Future Agenda Area), debate and practice (International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2012, DApp research with Harvard GSD, Columbia GSAPP, Princeton School of Architecture and University of Kentucky School of Design) and initiator of the Design and Politics series.

11. Guerrilla in the city?

Real guerrilla warfare is part of the complexity of the big city, unknown in The Netherlands. Guerrilla as the tactic for action-oriented urban development, in changing strong alliances 'making city', that is a guerrilla that works on the city. Guerrilla and planning: a powerful alliance.