"Before all else, the wall must be shown naked in all its sleek beauty and anything fixed on it must be shunned as an embarrasment"

-H.P. Berlage in 1906 on his entry for the architectural competition for a the "Palace of Peace" in The Hague.

Every culture in every country has its own "Father of modern X", where X is some art or science. For the Netherlands, in Architecture, Hendrik Petrus Berlage (born Amsterdam, Netherlands 1856; died The Hague, Netherlands, 1934) is that father.

Pronunciation: Bair-Lahger comes closest...

Life

Originally seeking a career as an artist, he showed talent as an architect early in life but, due to a dearth of architectural schools in the Netherlands, he studied at the Technische Hochschule in Zurich from 1875 till 1878. It was there that he met -and studied under- the celebrated architects Semper and Viollet-le-Duc. The former taught amongst other things, that the use of decoration should not be a goal in itself. The latter's work brought Berlage to realize that historical styles should not be rehashed on a one-to-one basis when building anything modern. Based on their theories, Berlage developed his own style, a highly rational system which employed geometrical plans and shapes; this was later to form the basis of the Amsterdam School.

From 1879 to 1881 Berlage traveled throughout Europe, mostly to study the Renaissance buildings of central Italy, before forming a partnership back in the Netherlands with Theodore Sanders which resulted in a mixture of practical and more esoteric projects. Together they entered various architectural competitions and their designs were widely praised.

After becoming a selfemployed architect in 1889, he gradually distanced himself from current opinion and started to develop his own style more and it wa during this period that he was asked to build one of the most well-known buildings in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. This building is still revered among architecture students today, due to its rational yet highly developed use of materials and space, and has been influential to most architecture since.

He went on to design many builings, mostly in the Netherlands. Those which I either sincerely hope are linked or otherwise should be soon:


Architecture

As an interloper between the traditionalists of the late 19th century and the modernists of the century after, Berlage's theories -put forth in his myriad writings- inspired many modernist groups such as De Stijl, the Amsterdam School and the New Objectivists. He was awarded the British Royal Gold Medal in 1932 for his work.

Any building by Berlage shows its construction and often this supercedes decoration, thereby becoming the decoration itself. Always requiring that the materials used demonstrate their nature and their use, under Berlage's supervision no straight girder was ever warped; no wooden beam was bent painted to looked like some other type. He can't, however, be categorized as a functionalist because he didn't necessarily reject the idea of decoration. He simply desired that they form an integral part of the design.

Perhaps his favourite building material was brick; he used it widely as it lends visual strength and mass to the walls. Again, no ornaments: instead he would use bands of differently coloured bricks, thus reducing the massiveness of inner walls, while binding them graphically to the exterior world.

One of the things I remember Berlage most for is his advocacy to total design; not only did he design the furniture -using the same rigid methods he employed in his structures- for his buildings, he was the man who wrote treatizes on "Why an architect should design the spoons in a house he builds". My tutors would remind me of this fact when I'd forgotten some important aspect of a building.
At Uni, when it suited me, I hated Berlage.

The first building in which Berlage demonstrated his rational style is the Stock Exchange in Amsterdam. Regarded as his greatest achievement, it is the quintessence of the bridge between the neoclassical styles near the end of the 19th century and new, "modernist" architecture of The 20th Century.

Visit it. Go on. DO IT!

Other links:




References:
Spiro Kostov, A History of Architecture. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995
Dennis Sharp, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York, Quatro Publishing, 1991
greatbuildings.com

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