Some years ago I had the privilege to visit the new building of the Dutch Supreme Court in the Hague we used as a case for the DCM course. It is a great modern building and the representation of the building is an important feature.
During the course, we discussed the involvement of key stakeholders. For instance the involvement of the client, employees, users, and visitors. We also discuss during the course how to deal with subjective things like ambiance, societal value, architectural value, and intrinsic value. Especially for a building like the Supreme Court, it is not, in the first place, about square meters, or about indoor air quality. The importance of the building is its representation. The meaning of it, for society. And the highest representation of the legal part of our democratic system.
I think this is best explained through the huge painting by Helen Verhoeven in the entrance hall.
The huge painting in the hall measures 4.0 x 6.47 meters and it took the artist more than two years to finish it. The painting is already called the new Nachtwacht painted by Rembrandt van Rijn and it fits in a long tradition of group portraits in European and Dutch painting history. But it also refers to the long tradition of the Dutch juridical system and law. It is an iconographic painting like we know from gothic and renaissance times. All statues and paintings in gothic cathedrals have iconographic meanings and attributes. Standing before the painting you can recognize several images from Dutch history, the bible, former kings, governors, judges, philosophers, painters, and so on. I see Baruch Spinoza, Hugo de Groot, and Lady Justice with her attributes: the balance, the blindfold, and the sword. I recognize Judith with the head of Holofernes from the old testament.
What is this painting about? About the objective and about the subjective. About justice and injustice. The whole represents the essence of what the Supreme Court is for a nation: the members of the court in the center guarding over and representing citizens through the law. The citizens are in the back. I was impressed and amazed by the painting.
Why put so much effort into this painting?
The essence is representation. This painting represents the essence of the supreme court for our country. The painting represents the meaning of the client; the Supreme Court. The painting gives meaning to the court, and to the importance of the building as a whole because it represents communal justice and its meaning for Dutch democracy. This meaning is stressed by the judge in the center. This is Lodewijk Ernst Visser; the Jewish president of the supreme court, unlawfully fired by the Nazis during World War II without his colleagues protesting against it. It is, according to the Painter, to show to all judges to be constantly critical and to always stand for the law. Then they have a thru meaning for society.
As you will experience during our course, the management of buildings is not only about systems, numbers, profit, or checklists. Management of construction is maybe more about sense, meaning, value, teamwork, personal skills, integrity, representation, and their meaning for society. The image of the painting helps us to understand that all actions and decisions during design and construction depend on the narrative behind it, in the case of the Supreme Court what it means for our democratic society. The building, like the painting, is the representation of it.