Mark Hemel

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Mark Hemel 2010xsm.jpg

Mark Hemel (born 1966 in Emmen, Netherlands) is a Dutch architect and designer, and co-founder (with Barbara Kuit) of the Amsterdam-based architectural practice Information Based Architecture (IBA). He is best known as the (co) architect of the Canton Tower in Guangzhou.

Mark Hemel's View[edit]

Mark's focus is on "global architecture". His main interest is to play a role in the expression and development of our contemporary culture. In his view Architecture can play an important and positive role in shedding light on potential routes "our" global culture could take.

Mark Hemel: "The next generation of planners, architects and designers will have to get used thinking big, so making reference to big environmental challenges and mayor expected world population dynamic. Architects in particular will find themselves less and less powerful. We therefore have to focus on making our work more "information based" or we might get side-lined and more and more irrelevant".

His solution is to strive for 'TRUE' integration of the different aspects of design and planning, starting with small steps at the time. He pleads for getting rid of the modern valuation-system of measuring everything in terms of money, efficiency and functionality, and instead calls for a more holistic valuation system that weighs small but essential and strategic influences against the more superficial and big and more obvious influences. Mark proclaims that "recent decades of science have shown us that we should not ignore the small, and that we should focus on the interrelationship of seemingly independent things. The world is a global world, everything on it, including the people, form one holistic whole. We should go beyond Modernism's mayor fault: splitting problems into sub-sets in order to solve them independently, in the process destroying the interrelationship." He therefore pleads for "biological intelligence" to be introduced in the architecture and planning professions. Hemel is currently working on a book in which the term "biological intelligence" will be introduced.[1]


Hemel was educated by American theorist Jeffrey Kipniss and UK architect Zaha Hadid as well as Dutch architects Herman Herzberger and Carel Weeber. He was particularly influenced by books of Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene 1976) Kevin Kelly (Out of Control 1995), Ilya Prigogine (Order Out of Chaos 1984) and Douglas Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach). After his post graduate studies at the Architectural Association in London Mark began teaching at the AA.

Besides an interested for everything that evolved or subconsciously developed, Mark also has a great interest in mathematics and geometry. During his studies in Delft he pursued mathematical courses in chaos theory. The reason for his interest in this is that chaos theory seems to explain why Modernism, in its purest form, is doomed to lead to disaster, and that the alternative "synthesis and integration" bears much more prospect.

"In contemporary architecture you see lots of forms that refer to nothing. And indeed, we want to make designs that are more 'informed'."[2]

Hemel was chosen as one of Design-Build Network's "New Young Architects to Watch for 2010".[3]


Mark Hemel was born in 1966 in Emmen, the Netherlands. Hemel graduated in 1993 from the Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands and in 1996 from the Architectural Association in London in the Graduate Design Program. After his studies in The Netherlands he received a scholarships for 1-year research in Africa and Asia from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture.[4] During this year he traveled through Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, India, and Indonesia concentrating his research on organic city-developments. Beside this he also developed an interest in vernacular tactics to cope with the omnipresent harsh environmental circumstances which he came across in Africa and Asia. He particularly studied the Dogon in Mali, the cities of Djenne, the people on the island of Nias, Indonesia, and the southern temple cities of India.

Hemel worked and lived the first 9 years (1995–2003) of his professional life in London, United Kingdom. In 2003 he returned to the Netherlands to set up his practise in Amsterdam.

Hemel is a tutor and educator. He has been a Unit-master at the Architectural Association in London from 1999 to 2008 and design-tutor of the post-graduate Environment and Energy program at the AA in London, since 2002. Over these years he experimented to develop performance-based architectural projects. Some of his students became very successful executing his new approach to architecture and were awarded various prizes.[citation needed] In 2003 Hemel was awarded the RIBA tutor prize related to Bronze Medal Award-winning of one of his students.

Hemel has been active in multi-disciplinary groups trying to reinvigorate the dried-up architectural debate. He is a member of the do-group; an international inter-disciplinary research-group and participating in the Performing Arts Labs; a UK-based architectural research group sponsored by the United Kingdom's National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts.

Hemel is registered as architect at the Stichting Bureau Architecten Register, The Hague, the Netherlands.

Professional Practice[edit]

Hemel co-founded the firm Information Based Architecture together with his partner Barbara Kuit in 1998 while they were still based in London. The office is called "information based" in order to clearly break with the common state of architecture at that time that was producing uninformed "blobs". In 2003 they moved their office to Amsterdam, while they focus their work currently on Europe, China and Africa. They have won several high-profile competitions, the most important being the design for the 600 metres (2,000 ft) tall Canton Tower which has recently been opened to the public. Hemel's attitude to architectural work can best be explained by the following statement: he believes that "architecture should be valued only after the physical form of architecture has come into being, and we should get away of valuing architecture on the basis of conceptual text, sexy images. Architecture cannot fully be photographed, not fully be described in text, and not fully be captured in an image."

Publications and reference material[edit]

Hemel and Kuit's work has been published and exhibited widely. In 2002 they were shortlisted for the Young Architects of the Year Award in the United Kingdom. They have received support by the Dutch Department of Trade and Industry and received several encouragement-grants by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture.

Hemel is the author of a book entitled Supermodel, the making of the world's tallest TV tower (2011).


External links[edit]