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Step into the captivating world of artist Carlijn Kingma (1991). Trained as an architect at Delft's University of Technology, she ventured off the beaten path to become a social cartographer. Today, she creates mesmerizing drawings using the metaphorical language of architecture.

Navigating Society's Hidden Architecture

Studying architecture was an eye-opening experience for Kingma: it provided her with the tools to understand and present complex societal structures. "I am an architecture student at heart. I was obsessed with complex architecture and architectural ideas during my studies," Kingma explains. "Think of capitalism, our educational and healthcare system, or even democracy itself: they're all large structures that consist of agreements, laws, norms, and bureaucratic processes we must navigate. Because of the intricacy of many of these structures, it is difficult to oversee them all: things are often hidden behind facades. And that's problematic: when you don’t understand or oversee a structure, it becomes very difficult to change things." By visually representing the hidden facets of our infrastructures, Kingma hopes to spur discussions and empower individuals to understand and reshape their society.


"Architecture is a metaphorical language that transcends language barriers. Everyone understands the concept of a closed door, an ivory tower, or hitting a blank wall."

Unveiling the Language of Architecture

"In my view, there are two types of drawings in architecture. One is the construction blueprint, which is essential to the actual built. But as a student, I felt a bit disappointed that there was so much emphasis on those blueprints, and rendering them at a scale of 1:100 or 1:200 because what about the drawings that tell the story of architecture? How do you convey things like light, smells, and sounds? Where is the drawing that conveys a narrative?”

Inspiration struck when Kingma delved into the work of architects from the 1960s, such as Archigram and Superstudio, who used architecture as a metaphorical language to convey complex ideas and utopian visions. “They created these phenomenal works of art: large drawings that showed the city as a machine. Rem Koolhaas did something similar: he started as a cinematographer, telling stories about modernity through a city. They all use architecture as a language to describe something complex. It's a rich architectural tradition.”

This fusion of traditional architectural skills and artistic ways of expression resonated deeply with Kingma. Armed with her architectural training, she discovered that architecture is a language that breaks barriers, which enabled her to communicate profound concepts through drawings and sketches: "Architecture is a metaphorical language that transcends language barriers. Everyone understands the concept of a closed door, an ivory tower, or hitting a blank wall."

"I prefer to draw manually because the composition needs to be felt. You have to sit in front of it and experience it."

The Waterworks of Money

For her latest project, titled The Waterworks of Money, Kingma delved into the world of money, shedding light on the significant impact of the monetary system on various aspects of society, including inequality, sustainability, and global relationships. “Most of us don't know how and where money is created, how it's put into circulation, or who has the right to it. And while we don't understand the whole structure, we certainly feel the consequences of the monetary system in our everyday life. I felt a strong urge to outline that architecture.”

Kingma undertook the self-described "mammoth task" alongside collaborators Martijn Jeroen van der Linden (Lector of New Finance at Haagse Hogeschool) and Thomas Bollen (research journalist at Follow The Money). Kingma compares the process to building a physical structure, with multiple iterations akin to architectural development. Kingma: "The project spanned 2.5 years, with a full year dedicated to extensive research." Over this period, the trio interviewed at least 100 experts, ranging from bank treasurers and CEOs to communication staff, pension fund managers, tax authorities, private equity firms, and central bank representatives. Kingma: "We ended up having this huge wall covered with sketches and flowcharts of how the monetary system works."



The creative journey continued for another year and four months to craft a coherent design that served as an accurate architectural representation of the monetary system's inner workings. The final part of the project saw Kingma draw every intricate detail by hand. "Thomas and I worked about 100-120 hours a week, seven days a week. While I drew, he developed the audio tours and thought about how to guide people through the work. Then we launched it at Lowlands and later exhibited it at the Rijksmuseum Twente, and finally at the Architecture Biennale in Venice."


“I don't use digital tools and am not interested in them either”


Manual Mastery in a Digital Age

It's been a labor of love. And in a time where everything can be rendered within seconds, Kingma spent months manually crafting and sketching, painstakingly mapping out and drawing up the current world of money where everything is in motion. “I don't use digital tools and am not interested in them either. When I talk to people like a banker, I have to draw on the spot to illustrate the process. So, I set up flow diagrams, and that's easier and faster to do by hand.”

The intricate hand-drawn illustrations allow Kingma to incorporate rich layers of information. Each representation holds meaning. Kingma believes that drawing manually enables her to feel the composition as a whole, connecting with the work on a deeper level. “Ultimately, it's about combining the 100+ elements of the story into a logical working whole, positioning them in relation to each other, creating different scales, and making representations. I wouldn't know how to give all that as input to a computer program. Each representation holds meaning. So, I prefer to draw manually because the composition needs to be felt. You have to sit in front of it and experience it.”


Want to see more of Carlijn's work? Watch out for the documentary “The World of Carlijn.”




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NOOK is the official magazine of the Dutch and Belgian professional associations for interior architecture, BNI and AINB. The magazine offers in-depth content, inspiration, and opinions. NOOK is published quarterly in English. 

The above article was first published in NOOK, the Drawing issue (2023 / #3). 

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