During the 20th century, the Netherlands experienced an architectural blossoming unknown in its history. The opening and concluding decades brought forth buildings that attained world renown for their formal inventiveness, fine execution, and social resonance. Even during the 50-year fallow period that commenced in the late 1930s, individual contributions maintained the spark of ingenuity and commitment to excellence that would reignite on a much larger scale in the mid-1980s when the economy exploded, and the geographic range of notable buildings expanded.
Although Dutch architecture often reflects international currents, it displays some distinctive features derived from special topographical and historical conditions. The land is predominantly flat, which means that it tends to be organized along Cartesian principles. The straight line predominates, although the curve and the polygon have occasionally provided alternative layouts in cities and suburbs. Throughout much of its history, Dutch architecture has been modest in scale: typically, grandeur has been shunned, and size tamed by intricate and varied details. The discomfort with the grandiose stems in part from the fact that housing is the overwhelmingly dominant building type in the world's most densely populated nation. The dwelling, whether the single-family house or publicly funded apartment, has always been a preoccupation, and in that realm, intimacy is a cherished characteristic.
Because much of the country has first to be won and then protected from the sea, an unusual degree of cooperation is required, and regulations to foster collaboration are mandated. Nevertheless, despite the smallness of their country, the Dutch have a penchant for ideological divergence, although this innum has been complemented by a tendency for individuals to forge alliances to disseminate their beliefs. In architecture, this can be seen in the consistent formation of small, usually short-lived polemical factions, often congregated in a given city and invariably mounting exhibitions and publishing tendentious manifestoes and periodicals. Groups such as the Amsterdam School, De Sujl, "Opbouw" in Rotterdam, "De 8" and "Groep 32" in Amsterdam, plus the later "Forum" group of Structuralists, have shaped Dutch architecture in profound ways.
If an idealist strain persists, practical objectives cannot be ignored in a country where every particle of the man-made environment is cultivated. Standardization in the interests of cost-effectiveness and rapid production is an ever-burning issue, along with ingenious attempts to temper its propensity toward monotony. Another significant and enduring trait that relates to practicality is the long tradition of recycling. Commissions often involve the metamorphosis of an existing shell for new uses; some of the most interesting dwellings to have been created since the 1970s are inserted into former warehouses.
Although the Dutch are often typecast as stolid, frugal, and businesslike (sakelijk), a generous quotient of playfulness invigorates their environment, demonstrated in the historic canal houses, which may conform in plan and elevation but are enlivened by unique and whimsical details. In the 20th century, this quality is on view in the ludic imagery of the Amsterdam School: in the witty metaphors of Forum architects such as Aldo van Eyck, Herman Hertzberger, and Piet Blom; and in the provocative inversions of firms like the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Mecanoo, MVRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, and Nathalie de Vries), and Neutelings Riedijk (Jan Neutelings). A complementary characteristic is a fondness for polychromy; brick has been manufactured in many hues and textures, laid in novel patterns, and employed, together with tile and stone, in contrasting colors, to charming effect. Since the 1980s, plastered, clapboarded, metallic, and polymer surfaces and details, similarly multihued and multi-textured, have become popular; the completely monochromatic building, even when fashioned of concrete, finds little favor in this nation where skies are often overcast. A further source of unity is the preference for the employment of geometric systems of proportion to generate harmony.
The individualism that lurks behind the generic, and sometimes borders on the idiosyncratic, may relate to fundamental aversion to classicism and to the compositional methods of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Nevertheless, a brake on too extreme a degree of heterogeneity has been the numerous rules and regulations imposed by the government, especially after the passage in 1901 of the National Housing Act. Frequently revised and continually expanded, government policy, operating at both the national and municipal level, manipulates through financing projects with public funds no less than direct legal action. Recently, the tediousness and utilitarian expediency characteristic of architecture during the post-World War I era and its long aftermath have been mitigated by the recognition that formal inventiveness and atypical solutions tailored to local situations contribute to social as well as aesthetic satisfaction. This attitude has been abetted by a new government policy giving architects more autonomy and by a wealthy economy that has supported experimental design and construction.
These general observations should serve as a guide to the brief chronological survey of 20th-century Dutch buildings that follows. The turn of the century set the stage for renewal. From 1890 to 1905 the fundamental contrasts that would be recapitulated throughout the century were adumbrated - the fancifully libidinous versus the soberly Calvinistic. In the 1890s, these contrasts are seen in the two currents related to Art Nouveau, one indebted to the dominant Franco-Belgian interpretation propagating the curvilinear and the symbolically laden, with The Hague as the center and H.P. Mutters (1884-1954) the chief architect, and the other representing a peculiarly Dutch variant dubbed Nieuwe Kunst, whose avatars concentrated on sturdy, rectilinear construction and disciplined organic forms through geometric stylization. They were also motivated by ethical considerations, seeking to create a beautiful and moral environment for a more egalitarian society.
The fin-de-siècle initiated an architectural flowering that lasted until the 1930s and was similarly rife with contradictions and collisions. The one figure that seems to have provided inspiration of varying kinds to almost every subsequent movement was Hendrik P. Berlage. Although there were common points of reference, including Berlage himself, especially his advocacy of geometric systems, the Amsterdam School and De Stijl, which next took center stage, display contrasts comparable to those between the two variants of Art Nouveau. Some architects moved from one mode of expression to the other. Two works in The Hague, stemming from the office of Jan Buijs (1889-1954) and J.B. Lürsen (1894-1995), illustrate this path: the Rudolf Steiner Clinic (1926-28), predictably paying homage to the Goetheanum and therefore kin to productions of the Amsterdam School, and the multipurpose headquarters (office, dental clinic, shops) of the cooperative society, De Volharding (1927-28), indebted to De Stijl for its composition. Russian Constructivism is another source because the crystalline enclosure incorporates advertising: at night, De Volharding is a glowing signboard of interpenetrating volumes "decorated" with words and slogans.
Jan Buijs offered nor a synthesis but alternative approaches, whereas some sought to blend the best of both worlds. The chief exponents of a merger are Willem Dudok (1884-1974) and S.J. Bouwma (1899-1959). Dudok, municipal architect of Hilversum, forged an enduring personal legacy in the town where he planned numerous neighborhoods and executed 19 schools, municipal housing and offices, public baths, and the monumental Hilversum Town Hall (1924-30). Contrasting vertical and horizontal envelopes of yellow Roman brick accented with glazed tile, stone, and glass are slotted together, dramatic cantilevers hover over the pool and gardens that are incorporated into the ensemble. Bouwma, less renowned, also deserves attention as a spectacular combiner of the two idioms. Employed by the Public Works Department of the northeastern city of Groningen, Bouma, at first influenced exclusively by the Amsterdam School, increasingly applied cubistic strategies. Interlocking curved and rectilinear volumes and beautifully shaped windows and stairs executed in wood, metal, tile, and stained glass, draw attention to his Public Works building (1929) and numerous schools, which testify to the assimilation during the 1920s throughout the length and breadth of the Netherlands of metropolitan aesthetic movements.
Groningen offers yet another surprise: the first example of Dutch Functionalism (Nieuwe Bouwen): the Polytechnic School (1922-23) by J.G. Wiebenga (1886-1964) and L.C. van der Vlugt (1894-1936). The ribbon windows that run the length of the entire facade are an innovation made possible via the concrete frame devised by Wiebenga, at the time director of the school. Although few buildings that truly belong to this movement were produced in the Netherlands, those executed are among the most poetic examples in the International Style canon. Several exponents of the Nieuwe Bouwen joined the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM), and Cor van Eesteren, its president from 1930-47, made the ideals of that group common currency in the Netherlands. The separation of functions and the use of open-row housing shaped the new extensions in Dutch cities until the 1970s and beyond.
By 1930, the economic turndown had put paid to the extravagances of the Amsterdam School, and former De Stijl members had accepted the strictures of the Nieuwe Bouwen, with its predominantly left-wing sympathies. The opposition, conservative both politically and architecturally, was motivated by religious or nationalist considerations to maintain traditional forms and materials as symbolic of eternal Dutch values (though they also admired Scandinavian Romanticism). They equated Functionalism with materialism and godlessness, chewing classicism per se, they nonetheless adopted symmetry in their ordered compositions. The Roman Catholic Delft School, led by the converts J. Granpré Molière (1883-1972) and A.J. Kropholler (1881-1973), sought truth and beauty in the harmonious relation between form and technique. In addition to designing low-rise, pitched-roof housing for the "lite people - farmers and the devout working class, the Delft School excelled in churches and town halls, where their affection for ritual and divinely ordained hierarchy could be expressed. Representative examples include the town hall in Waalwijk (Kropholler, 1929-31) and the Seminary Church in Haaren (Granpré-Molière, 1938-39), both in the predominantly Catholic southeast. Conservatives also obtained important cultural commissions such as the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam (1928-35) and the Van Abbe Museum in Enschede (1933-35), the former by A.J. van der Steur (1893-1953) and the latter by Kropholler.
Several former Functionalists became disillusioned in the later 1930s; although not making a common cause with the conservatives, they nevertheless came to disapprove of the apparent lack of symbolic content in the Nieuwe Bouwen and sought to moderate its mechanistic and minimalist thrust. Sybold van Ravesteyn (1889-1983) skillfully retained the sophistication of modernism while alleviating its dourness through art deco detailing (generally not much in evidence in the Netherlands) and complex shapes deriving from an admiration for the Baroque; for example, the office building "Holland van 1859" (1937-39) and the addition to the Kunstmin Theatre (1938-40), both in Dordrecht. Most members of Groep 32, having fervently embraced the ideas of De 8 in 1938, withdrew and proselytized for a more consciously aesthetic and less ephemeral approach without adopting the Delft School's traditionalism. By this time, lingering economic depression, the rise of fascism, the gathering war clouds, and for the Netherlands, eventual Nazi occupation, resulted in conditions that were hardly conducive to construction of any sort.
After the war, Groep 32 went on the offensive by repudiating the CIAM-dominated planning practice during the reconstruction. The most potent challenge to CIAM came from within its ranks. J.B. Bakema (1914-1981), with Van Eyck, helped form Team X and used Forum to protest against CIAM's technocratic rigidity and doctrinaire separation of functions - work, dwelling, recreation, tied together by transit - in favor of making the built environment more responsive to specific human needs, including those of productive and emotionally satisfying personal encounters, maximized through delivering an agglomeration of small units rather than a featureless mass. An example of what this meant in practice is Hertzberger's Central Beheer in Apeldoorn (1967-72). The modular concrete frame produces a grid of spaces that may be configured by the occupants as private or communal offices and mutual meeting places. Although most Structuralists (a name associated with the Forum group that found inspiration in anthropology rather than the mechanistic dictates of CIAM) use cubic modules, some introduce rhomboids and pyramids: Piet Blom (experimental housing, De Kasbah [1969-73], in Hengelo; "pole dwellings" [1975) in Helmond), Onno Greiner (Silveren Schor youth center [1962-67) in Arnemuiden), and Frank van Klingeren (community center '+ Karregar [1970-73] in Eindhoven). Nevertheless, all emphasize the domestically scaled modular unit and typically offer possibilities for growth and change.
If during the 1960s and 1970s, the international professional press focused on the Structuralists, their output could not compete with that of large firms who were complicit in dismantling many historic centers. An ominous development was the replacement of small-scale housing stock by gigantic government and commercial complexes. Although affordable housing never ceased production, increasingly it was relegated to vast settlements beyond the urban core, served by megalomaniac rapid transit systems and highways that were devouring the land. H.A. Maaskant, a respected figure from his Nieuwe Bouwen days, became a vocal apologist for bigness and did his share to transform the skyline with obtrusively huge ensembles sculpted from monochromatic concrete, such as his Brasília-like ensemble for the Province of North Brabant (1963-71) in 's-Hertogenbosch. Hertzberger, too, eventually participated in this un-Dutch folie de grandeur (Ministry of Social Affairs, 1973-79, The Hague), as did the numerous firms who produced behemoths gigantic in height and breadth for bureaucracies such as the postal service (Headquarters PTT, Groningen, 1985-90, by F.J. van Gool), and municipalities (Town Hall in Apeldoorn, 1985-90, which includes a parking garage and commercial and cultural spaces, by H.M. Ruijssenaars).
Nevertheless, in the late 1970s, A renewed appreciation for the Nieuwe Bouwen surfaced to counter both Structuralism and Brutalism (which appeared in the Netherlands after its heyday in Britain and the United States) and reprises of the modestly scaled, white Functionalist projects and buildings of the 1920s and early 1930s appeared (Row housing, Amsterdam [1978- 83] by Arne van Herk (b. 1944), and Cees Nagelkerke , an updated version of Oud's project for dwellings on the Strand boulevard of 1917). The battle cry became "Modernism without Dogma," and it did seem that a revival, without the moral imperatives that putatively animated the Functionalism of the prewar period, was underway.
However, soon thereafter such approaches were challenged by Rem Koolhaas, the first Dutch winner of the Pritzker Prize (2000) and founder of the firm OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture). Koolhaas's cosmopolitan background sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. A confrontational and controversial figure who arouses both admiration and hostility, he has set the agenda for much of the theory and practice of the 1990s in his native country and abroad. His critique of the historic smallness of Dutch architecture has been heeded with a vengeance, and his exploration of the effect of global economy forces has been revelatory for many architects and clients. During most of the century, Dutch architecture has mainly been a matter for professionals and government regulators; only the Amsterdam School garnered popular attention. But that dramatically changed in the last two decades of the 20th century. As architectural practice became theoretically more sophisticated, treating design as a more open and fluid process that increasingly takes into account changes wrought by the information age and the possibilities offered by electronic media, and as buildings became stylistically more diverse, exuberant, and sometimes downright outrageous, a cadre of articulate younger architects attained the celebrity of pop stars, and comment and criticism moved from the elite journals to the lay press. Dutch architects began to win prestigious commissions from abroad, in part because they embarked on research and explorations that were global in character and implication.
To an important degree, this situation was fostered by the government, which created a number of institutes and prizes. The Nederlands Architectuurinstituut/NAi, incorporating a Documentation Center, bookstore, and cafe along with exhibition halls, opened in 1993 in an extravagant new building in Rotterdam, subject of an invited competition of 1987. The winner was Jo Coenen, who set the tripartite composition of transparent, translucent, and opaque volumes over an ornamental pool. The Berlage Institute, founded in 1990, fosters architectural research and grants Master's degrees to students from all over the world. The Netherlands Architectural Fund was established to subsidize architecture centers, in numerous towns throughout the country, that disseminate information and give guided tours of notable local buildings.
In 1900, the Netherlands, isolated architecturally for two and a half centuries, began to claim architectural attention fitfully but surely and became an inspiration for all those interested in renewal, consolidation, and social responsibility in architecture as interpreted by this small but morally authoritative nation. As it moves into the new millennium, with its great prosperity and growing and well-educated population, which requires new buildings of various purposes that public and private bodies are eager to supply, and its wealth of design talent, which now includes foreign practitioners, the Netherlands definitively is on the cutting edge and has become the international mecca for architecture's future potential and realization.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.2 (G-O). Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.
AMSTERDAM SCHOOL; ART NOUVEAU; BERLAGE, HENDRIK PETRUS; BRUTALISM; DE STIJL; DUDOK, WILLEM MARINUS; HERTZBERGER, HERMAN; KOOLHAAS, REM; OUD, J.J.P.; RIETVELD, GERRIT THOMAS; TEAM X;
From the late 1960s, when the Dutch as well as foreigners (especially
the Italians) began to rediscover Durch modern architecture, there developed (in contrast to the previous paucity) an enormous bibliography,
initially in Duch-and Italian
but increasingly bilingual (English-
Dutch). The government (national, provincial, and municipal) issues
pamphlets on cities and regions describing city planning efforts and
buildings, historical and new, and there are number of firms that
specialize in architecture and urbanism, such 25 SUN (Socialistiche
Vitgeverij Nederland), which became n.10, the Dutch Architectural Institute (NAi: Nederlands Architecruur Instituut, previously the Documentatiecentrum woor de Bouwkunst), which published a definitive series of catalogues in connection with museum exhibitions; in addition the remarkable bookstore in Amsterdam. Architecture et Natura, has
been the pilgrimage for architecture enchusiasts for 50 years and, since
1990, as been publisher of its own volumes, including those for
ARCAM. There is an annual Architecare in the Netherlands Yearbook
(recently edited by Hans van Dijl).
Barbieri, S. Umberto (editor), Architectsar en Planning, Nederland:
1940-1980. Rotterdam: 110, 1983
Barbieri, S. Umberto, and Leen van Duin (editors). Honderd jaar
Nederlandse architectuar, 1901 -2000, Nijegem: SUN, 1999
Bergvelt, Ellinoor, Frans van Burkom, and Karin Gaillard, Froze
Neo-Renaissance so Post-Modernisve: A Hundred and Twenty-Five
years of Dutch Interiors, Rotterdam: 010, 1996
Buch. Joseph, Century of Architecture in the Netherlands 1880-
1990, Rotterdam: NAi, 1993
Caciato, Maristella, Franco Paraini, and Sergio Polano, Archisectsar
en volkbwiweting, Nederland: 1870- 1940. Nijunegen: SUN,
1980; translation of original Italian publication, Funzione: Senio:
Architetture, Casa, Cina, 1870- 1940, Milan: Electa, 1980
Crimson (Wouter Vanstiphout and Cassandra Wilkins), Michael
Speaks, and Gerard Hadders, Mart Stare: Trousers: Stories from
Behind she Scenes of Dutch Moral Modernis, Rotterdam: 010/
Derwig, Jan. and Erik Mastic. Functionalism in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam: Architectura et Natura, 1995
Dijk. Hans van, 20th-Century Architecture in the Netherlands,
Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1999
Fanelli, Guido, Architecture modern in Olanda, Florence: Marchi &
Bertolli, 1968; as Moderne architectusr in Nederland, 1900-1940,
revised edition in Dutch, with English summary and translation
by Wim de Wit. The Hague: Scatsuirgeverij, 1978
Fanelli, Guido, Architesuera, Failizia, Urbanisica Olanda 1917-
1910. Florence: Papafava, 1978
Grinberg, Donald, Housing in the Netherlands, 1900-1940,
Rotterdam: Nigh- Wolters-Noordhoff Universitaire, 1977
Groenendijk, Paul, and Pier Vollard, Guide to Modern Architecture
in the Netherlands, Rotterdam: i10, 1st edition. 1987, 2nd revised
Ibelings, Hans, Amerricanem: Dusch Architecture and the Transatlantic
Model, Rotterdam: NAi, 1997
Ibelings, Hans, 20th Century Architecture in the Netherlands,
Rotterdam: NAi. 1996
Ibelings, Hans, The Modern Fifties and Sixties. The Spreading of
Contemporary Architecture over the Netherlands, Rotterdam: NAi,
Kraayvanger. H.M. (editor), Nederland bowwt in baksteen. 1800-
1940 (exhib, car.), Rowerdam: Boymans Museum, 1941
Langmead, Donald, Dutch Modernism: Architectural Resources in the
England Language, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996
Loosma, Bart, Sapper Dutch;: New Architecture in the Netherlands,
London: Thames and Hudson, 2000
Luchinger, Arnold, Structuralism to Architecture and Urban Planning,
Stuttgart: Karl Kramer, 1981
Micras, j.P.. Na-coriogse bowwkanst in Nederland, Ammerdam:
Micras, J. P., and F.R. Yerbury, Dutch Architecture of the 20 th
Century, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926
Molema. Jan, The New Movement in the Netherlands 1924-1936,
Rotterdam: i10, 1996
Strasser, Emil E.., Neuere Holländihe Bawkuna, München-Gladbach:
Fahrer Verlage, 1926
Woud. Auke van der, The Art of Building, from Chasicism to
Modernity: The Dutch Architectural Debate. 1840-1990,
Burlington. VT: Ashpate, 2000
Yerbury, Frank, Modern Duch Buildings, New York: Charles
Amsterdam Architecture, 1991-93
Architecture in the Netherlands yearbook 1999-2000
Birkhäuser architectural guide. Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg 20th century
Architecture in the Netherlands
Living in Amsterdam
Town-planning in the Netherlands Since 1900
Netherlands Architecture Since 1900: With Forty Photographs and a List of Buildings Completed Since 1945
SuperDutch: New Architecture in the Netherlands
Strip - 1.5 Kilometres of Urban Housing in the Hague: one mile of urban housing in The Hague
The Netherlands in Focus: Exemplary Ideas and Concepts for Town and Landscape
The Netherlands: A Guide to Recent Architecture
Van Sambeek and Van Veen Architects: Freedom of Organization
The Art of Building: International Ideas, Dutch Debate 1840-1900 (Reinterpreting Classicism) (Reinterpreting Classicism S.)
Robbrecht en Daem: Pacing Through Architecture