Page D1.2 . 04 July 2012   
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Herman Hertzberger RIBA Gold Medal


Hertzberger helped edit the Dutch journal FORUM with others — including fellow Dutch architects Aldo van Eyck and Jaap Bakema — between 1959 and 1963. The publication provided a platform upon which to develop his architectural theories.

Teaching stints at Amsterdam's Academy of Architecture, Delft University, the University of Geneva, MIT, Columbia, Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, have allowed him to communicate architectural ideas to new generations of students, as have the several books he has authored, most notably Lessons for Students in Architecture.

Early in his career Hertzberger was influenced by Team 10, a loose affiliation of European and British architects who in the mid-1950s reacted against the Congrés International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM), which had essentially defined the direction of Modern architecture in Europe. Team 10's influence on Hertzberger was in the realm of Structuralist theory, championed by architects such as Van Eyck.

However, Hertzberger's architecture has always been a less faithful to the Van Eyck flavor of Structuralism as an esthetic theory (the accretion of forms, often cellular in nature, which gives Structuralist buildings their organic appearance) and more sympathetic to Structuralism as a condition that allows the building's users to help shape the architecture.

Dutch architect and theorist N. John Habraken best expressed this flavor of Structuralism in his 1962 book, Supports, where he envisioned an adaptable and changeable self-help housing that might flourish within a permanent framework of structure and utilities.

Hertzberger described Structuralism as that which " with the difference of a structure with a long life-cycle and infills with shorter life-cycles," in his book Lessons for Students in Architecture.

Definitive Early Works

Two early, groundbreaking Hertzberger projects were the Montessori School in Delft (first phase completed in 1960), and the Centraal Beheer office building in Apeldoorn, completed in 1972, both of which redefined the idea of how architecture could or should respond to the requirements of program, which are bound to change over time.

Hertzberger's approach was to create adaptable architecture — buildings with expressive structural frames that supported temporary infill that could adapt as the building aged: a strong theme in Hertzberger's work.

In a certain sense, this interest in the potential of a building's adaptability through design distinguishes Hertzberger as an early proponent and practitioner of sustainability in architecture, designing to allow easy adaptation via modification as a building's uses change.

The Montessori School's plan is deceptively simple: a series of four L-shaped classrooms staggered along a large circulation area that served as a multi-purpose commons, with administrative space on the other side of the hallway.

L-shaped classrooms had been in use for more than 20 years before Hertzberger employed the idea at Montessori. His genius was in reinforcing this configuration with arrival spaces, support spaces, and exterior space. The classrooms allow for a number of activities to take place simultaneously (a central characteristic of the Montessori method of education), and are very accommodating for activities of different intensity.

In 1966 and subsequent years Hertzberger increased the number of classrooms and added areas for infant care and learning. Hertzberger went on to design schools in the Netherlands and farther afield, incorporating features such as deep, stepped sitting spaces where students and teachers could interact. Such spaces have today become commonplace in educational buildings from elementary schools to universities.

The Centraal Beheer insurance company headquarters at first glance looks heavily influenced by other architectural icons of the time. The cascading cubic forms suggest Moshe Safdie's Habitat (designed in 1967), while the muscular concrete-block interior has the flavor of Paul Rudolph and early Louis Kahn.

But beyond the esthetics, the similarities end. Driving Centraal Beheer's form is Hertzberger's intention to completely rethink the office building.

Instead of double-loaded corridors or open plans, the design is based on office "islands" occupied by one or more workers. The open islands are stacked around a cruciform light well that extends through the full height of the building, up to five floors.

Circulation between the islands is achieved with raised walkways that connect them in a quilt-work of "served" and "service" spaces — as they might be described in a Kahn building. The open islands allow a wide range of activities to occur: from a single office, to a conference area, to a lounge space.

The spaces can evolve and change over time, and Hertzberger intended the occupants to decorate their islands to reflect their own tastes. The variety and seeming randomness of the environment lends an organic vitality to the space.

In an interview with the BBC after the announcement of his RIBA Gold Medal, Hertzberger opined that today's architecture student should be educated to "…do more with less. I'm convinced that from now on the point is not to build more buildings but to revise the buildings we have."

Hertzberger's architecture is a good model of how to do more with less, with the goal of achieving a humane environment.

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Architect Michael J. Crosbie is chair of the University of Hartford's Department of Architecture, editor-in-chief of Faith & Form magazine, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. More by Michael J. Crosbie

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Within a Delft Montessori classroom, the split-level L-shaped configuration establishes two distinct zones. The larger classroom area accommodates all students at desks and window seats and leads to each classroom's dedicated outdoor patio area.
Photo: R. Thomas Hille Extra Large Image

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Delft Montessori School phased construction plan diagram drawing.
Image: Herman Hertzberger Extra Large Image

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Additions to the Delft Montessori included new classroms and areas for infant care and learning, as well as expanded circulation areas that also serve as the building's commons.
Photo: Herman van Doorn Extra Large Image

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To encourage interactive use, the Delft Montessori School library is contained within the open space of the hall. A freestanding reading table and book display provides additional opportunities for spontaneous activities.
Photo: R. Thomas Hille Extra Large Image

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Delft Montessori School classroom floor plan drawing.
Image: Herman Hertzberger Extra Large Image

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Hertzberger's design for the Centraal Beheer office building (1972) was expressed as a grid of cuboids arrayed in a stepped pattern.
Photo: Aviodrome Luchtfotografie Extra Large Image

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Working spaces in the Centraal Beheer are modestly sized and designed to accommodate user customizations.
Photo: Willem Diepraam Extra Large Image

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The interior of the Centraal Beheer features intimate gathering spaces positioned at the edge of large atria.
Photo: Willem Diepraam Extra Large Image


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