Last day in Den Haag

08682DED-57DF-4909-BB95-EB3420B713B5Another cogwheel to add to my collection, but it isn’t held by an allegorical female so doesn’t score highly.

I set off to walk to the Gemeentemuseum. (It’s been interesting not having a bicycle in Holland. Progress is slow, but that’s fine in this context. On previous holidays I’ve often cycled past buildings that I’ve wanted to look at but haven’t been able to, or have cycled unwittingly past exactly those sights that I have enjoyed so much in the last 24 hours – the cycling cupids, for example. I’ve also found that walking and looking is sufficient cultural activity for my brain; I really wasn’t bothered about looking at the exhibits inside the Gemeentemuseum this morning. Being on foot also gives me the welcome chance to try out the trams.) 1789172F-8CAD-4982-9F8B-0DDEDE7B5633Anyway, there was another one of those Amsterdam School doorways en route:

The Gemeentemuseum is a tremendous building. Perhaps just the teensiest trace of Dudok’s Raadhuis in Hilversum (completed 1931), but the idea of luxurious “public” architecture that would form and transform its users was in the air at that time. There are similarities: the offset blocks; the long, calming transition from the outside to the inside; use of costly materials (marble, wonderful bronzed doors) and colour; surrounded by gardens and a reflecting pool; decoration in the service of space and structure; the feeling of compression and then expansion through variation in ceiling and beam heights; modern conveniences; and as much daylight as possible.


Gemeentemuseum, designed by Hendrik Berlage and opened in 1935, a year after his death. Had he lived, would there have been a tower?!

I did look at the exhibits after all, but not at all dutifully – only as they caught my eye. There was a special De Stijl exhibition (100 years old), so lots of Mondrians. Hmm, yes, well. I’m pleased for him that he worked out what he wanted to paint. More of Rietveld’s furniture (which is no doubt why the Centraal Museum in Utrecht seemed light on it). There was one exhibit which summed up neatly the difference between the real radicals like Rietveld and the incremental modernism of Berlage:


L: chair by Gerrit Rietveld, 1908. R: chair by Hendrik Berlage, ca. 1910

32326ACD-3FB5-44FE-841D-3B0A627E0C6CWandering around looking at the building from the inside, I came across Josef  Hoffmann’s Sitzmaschine from Vienna.

Then a walk towards Scheveningen into an increasing cold wind to seek out Henry van der Velde. This house, built for Dr Leuring in 1901-03, is only 100m from a regular cycling route, but I had never seen it. It’s in private ownership, so I walked round discreetly. It combines simplicity with sinuous lines – as far as I could see.


Then, after a delicious fish lunch in the Havenrestaurant (return visit after 20 years) and a quick look at the beach


I caught a tram back to Den Haag.

All in all, it’s been a very stimulating week of looking at early 20th-century Dutch architecture (and staying in a big-roomed canalside house for part of it). The private houses are interesting – the Schröder house or the Sonneveld house – but they were essentially for a wealthy few open to new ideas. (And such ideas – of a new, reductionist art for a new age.) It’s been the public architecture of Hilversum or the Amsterdam School that I’ve found most interesting; being a child of post-war planned Britain, I find it inspiring . . . and depressing that such big, optimistic ideas  have expired. Perhaps they were simply of their time and cannot be re-created in a fast-changing, more atomised world.

As for my looking askance at Mondrian . . . well, I should take more account of the transformations that he saw. I guess my model of industrialisation is too rooted in the early British experience. Later industrialisation in countries like the Netherlands must have arrived in much more of a rush. The sudden changes in towns and cities in the late 19th century, combined with the new artistic ideas circulating in the early 20th, must have been both disorienting and stimulating. How do you maintain a spiritual sense in such a mechanistic age? As for the transmission of ideas . . . being neutral in the First World War may have given the Dutch avant garde an advantage over other strands like the Bauhaus. (It’s still odd to think that the first De Stijl publication was in 1917 and that Dudok was busily planning Hilversum.)

I could do with a rest from those primary colours now.

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A former bicycle shop

I went back after breakfast to photograph the frieze and tympanum of a former bicycle shop (1903, Z Hoek and J T Wouters). The front is all glass and minimal wrought iron until you get to the top:


Bike-building babies! Even making the forks. And on the frieze below there are cycling cherubs:


kept safe from harm:


There’s more decoration at the end:


And the astonishing thing is that, from ground level, this detail is only visible with binoculars or a zoom lens.

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My hotel room is on the fourth floor overlooking the Paleistuin, so this was my view this morning. (At first I thought “oh, a parakeet . . . oh, two parakeets . . . oh, there are loads of them!”)


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Art nouveau in Den Haag


Letterbox on the house designed by J P L Lorrie to advertise his architectural skills, 1896

For the cost of a walking leaflet – €2.50 – I had an enjoyable afternoon looking at Art Nouveau/Jugendstil buildings in the centre of Den Haag. The Dutch variety uses too much glazed brick for my taste (but that’s what was available and what builders knew how to use), so my photos tend to stick to the elements I prefer.

Like tiling:

and glass:

and metalwork:

and the Vienna Secession:

and modern shopfronts grafted onto older buildings:


It was Art Nouveau with its own flavour – exemplified by Lorrie’s house, which showcased his Gothic expertise as well as his modern:


The leaflet also also introduced me to the “Um 1800” stijl, which was a very early 20th-century movement that looked back at neo-classical styles as an antidote to the excessive ornament of Art Nouveau. I suppose it’s a forerunner of the stripped classicism I am more used to. However, this eye-catching 1923 building (De Rijnstroom) is described as an expressionist variation of the Um 1800 style:

so I may give up on labels completely.

Some Dutch buildings are just odd to my eyes. They look almost organic, or like a backdrop to an H P Lovecraft story: set in the twentieth century but not as we know it. This former bank, for instance (NB the cogwheel) by H F Mertens, 1923:

or this one, from whose door Cthulhu may emerge:


The capitals are easy to read:


It was getting too dark to photograph, but I took a photo of De Bijenkorf with its Christmas lights:


Architects Piet Kramer, 1926 – yes, Amsterdam School

Actually, the strangest thing I saw today was the Zwarte Piet bands playing and processing through Den Haag. I had to look twice. They still do this?


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Today’s nature thought for the day


Kieviten are lapwings – peewits. It’s obvious when you say the word out loud.

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Laurenskerk, the only remaining mediaeval building in the city centre. As is obvious from this photo, my focus was on the weather today: sunshine at last!

A day trip to Rotterdam and a chance to see the dramatic new station again:


Having no “must-sees” in mind, I was free to wander. I found the Lijnbaan pedestrianised shopping street; the lettering and the layout seem to be all that remains of the ground-breaking 1953 design by J H van den Broek and J B Bakema:


My walk confirmed my view that Rotterdam is too full of gimmicky architecture. It is entertaining at times:


Markthal, 2014, MVRDV


Cube houses, 1978-84, Piet Blom. From inside, it looks as if you’re in a forest; from outside they look like snow-capped peaks.

but then it gets too big and impersonal, particularly by the river (step forward Messrs Piano and Koolhaas). I find earlier stuff more interesting. The derelict 1923 post and telecommunications office which takes up a whole block on Coolsingel, for example: are those snails next to the dolphins? Why would you want snails on your temple to speedy communications?


I also came across Dudok again: the offices of an insurance company with flats above which – happily for me – is now a brasserie.


Willem Dudok, 1952. Curved concrete roof and four round windows.

I also enjoyed the sight of the old railway drawbridge (no longer in use now that the railway line is underground):


De Hef, 1927, P Joosting

Finally, I visited the Sonneveld House – a Dutch modernist/functionalist house built for a wealthy family who fully embraced the simple, spare luxury of the large, light rooms (with sliding partitions) and the tubular steel furniture. Well-upholstered tubular steel furniture, in contrast to Gerrit Rietveld’s pain-in-the-backside works of art. Like Derngate, there was an understandable emphasis on up-to-date bathroom functionality. (Even the maids’ shared bathroom had a washbasin each.)


Sonneveld house, 1933, L C van der Vlugt. Steel frame and load-bearing walls, so you can have as many windows as you want. Not sure about the ground-floor tiles, though. Like the Rietveld Schröder house, it originally had more sylvan views than today.

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Today’s nature thought for the day


I do hope Sebastian has seen this.

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