Unleashing Citizenship Internationalism and the Project of the World Capital (1899-1914)
In 1907, the French architect Louis Cordonnier (1854-1938) won the competition for the design of the Peace Palace in The Hague. As a counterproposal to this project, the Dutch physician Pieter Hendrick Eijkman (1862-1914), in association with Internationalist and Pacifist intellectuals, promoted the plan of a World Capital at the outskirts of The Hague. In the same year, the Belgian public intellectual Paul Otlet (1868-1944) published an article promoting Brussels, instead of The Hague, as the ideal site for a World Capital. Otlet’s proposal differed noticeably from Eijkman’s precedent: while the latter dramatized the importance of monumental architecture and urban space, the first exploited the plan of a World Capital as the instrument to rethink the territorial organization of the world polity, thus exploring notions of space beyond the scale of the city. This article was the first of a long list of publications where Otlet theorized the relationship between cosmopolitan citizenship and Architecture.
In this thesis I examine the motives that led Otlet, who was at the time the organizer of the International Institute of Bibliography (IIB), to enter the discussion about the World Capital in 1907. I consider how Otlet used this project to promote the identity of the Belgian Empire and to describe the need for an education of the public to world affairs. In particular, I look at how Otlet illustrated, discussed and justified this plan using organizational charts as architectural notation. In retrospect, this narrative shed lights not only on the relationship between Otlet and the Belgian Empire, which used Internationalism as a strategy for foreign policy, but also on the origin of contemporary discourse about ideas of multiculturalism promoted by international institutions and liberal democracies.