Herman Hertzberger through the eyes of Johan van der Keuken3 october 2022
The Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam presents a retrospective of the work of photographer and filmmaker Johan van der Keuken (1938-2001). For this exhibition, Het Nieuwe Instituut has loaned 14 photos from Herman Hertzberger's archive. The architect and the photographer first got to know each other around 1965 and have been working together happily and regularly ever since. Van der Keuken’s photographs have defined how we see a number of Hertzberger’s best-known buildings, including the Centraal Beheer office building and the Weesperstraat student housing complex. You can see from the fingerprints and editorial notes on the back that Hertzberger has used the photos extensively for his numerous publications.
Born in Amsterdam in 1932, Herman Hertzberger is one of the great architects of the 20th century. Shortly after completing his architecture studies at the Technical University (TU) in Delft, he joined the editors of the magazine Forum, which argued for a human-scale architecture: featuring geometry, a small scale and attention for its future residents, rather than the rationalism of post-war reconstruction. A number of his designs have become well known, such as the former office building of Centraal Beheer in Apeldoorn, the Diagoon housing complex in Delft, and his many schools and theatres. In addition to being a designer, Hertzberger was also a gifted teacher, who taught at Delft University of Technology, the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam, and abroad. Since 2013, his archive has been transferred to Het Nieuwe Instituut in a number of steps. His sketches and office archive were acquired in 2013 and 2015, followed in 2018 by the part of the archive that Hertzberger kept at home. The photos by Johan van der Keuken are from this third part of the Hertzberger archive.
Human and rich in imagination
Hertzberger and Johan van der Keuken first got to know each other sometime around 1965. In that year, Van der Keuken made a film about the housing shortage in Amsterdam. At the beginning of the film, he showed Hertzberger’s drawings and scale models: they suggested how housing could be, in “a world of forms, human and rich in imagination” Voice-over by Johan van der Keuken, quoted from the English version on the Werkleitz website: werkleitz.de/en/vier-muren-four-walls/, accessed on 12-8-2022. Hertzberger and Van der Keuken met at a time when the photographer’s interest had shifted to film. Hertzberger was about to complete one of his most famous projects: the student housing complex on Weesperstraat in Amsterdam, which he had designed in 1959 as part of a competition with Tjakko Hazewinkel and Henk Dicke. The photos that Van der Keuken started making for Hertzberger from this moment on were his only photographic work, apart from the photo series he made about ‘place and time’ from the early 1970s. Jenny Smets, ‘Johan van der Keuken’, PhotoLexicon 6-12 (September 1989); consulted at https://depthoffield.universiteitleiden.nl/0612f01en/ accessed on 12-8-2022.
When Hertzberger had completed a new project, he and Van der Keuken visited it together. It was not easy to agree an appointment – dates had to be chosen far in advance – and Van der Keuken was not a photographer who did his best to please an architect by flattering his work as much as possible by emphasising its space and light, but they had a feeling for each other's work. They talked about Hertzberger’s new projects and Van der Keuken was able to capture and evoke the architect's “dreamed reality”. Hertzberger says that Van der Keuken was “invariably cheerful” when there was no sun and so no shadows. At such moments, Van der Keuken “flawlessly” captured the possibilities of Hertzberger’s designs: “He looked through my eyes; while standing next to him, I looked through his eyes to see what he saw and how he saw it, with the result that the prospect of his gaze also influenced the design.” Hertzberger on Johan van der Keuken in a publication for his 85th birthday: HH85, Herman Hertzberger archive in Het Nieuwe Instituut, inv.no. HERTd936, p. 78.
Space and light, conceivable possibilities
Some postcards and letters from Van der Keuken can be found in Hertzberger’s archive. Although not numerous, the documents show that each followed and used the other’s work with interest. In 1971, for example, Van der Keuken reported on his vision of “real socialism” (the only form of society that could tackle major social problems); in 1987 he joined the campaign that Hertzberger had initiated against the demolition of the orphanage by Aldo van Eyck (“an act of unprecedented cultural apathy”); and in 1990 he wrote that he would like to see Hertzberger’s recent work again. Letters from Johan van der Keuken to Herman Hertzberger, November 1971 and 6 November 1990, HERTd191. Map in support of the campaign against the demolition of the orphanage by Aldo van Eyck, 13 January 1987, inv.nr. HERTd190. They also reflected on each other’s work, as with the photo of a staircase from 1974 (‘The Lesson of Hertzberger’) and with the photo ‘Mountains Outside, Mountains Inside’ from 1975 (about the work of Van der Keuken). These photographs are published in, respectively: Herman Hertzberger, Articulations (Prestel Verlag 2002) p. 1 and Herman Hertzberger, Six architectures photographiées par Johan van der Keuken (Milan 1985) p. 18-19.
Space and light, conceivable possibilities: there was much that connected them. In 1997, after the poor reception in the press for To Sang Fotostudio, Van der Keuken called himself “a maker who just carries on and cheerfully uses a bicycle shed after a theatre, or a crèche after a ministry, without distinction as to size. Which then finds its meaning in the course of time, in the course of things. So we don’t despair.” Of Hertzberger, he had written a year earlier, in a New Year’s greeting, that the most beautiful portrait in a booklet with artist portraits by Bram Wisman was that of “the young Hertz”: “Sketching between architectural planes, under a photo lampshade, already with the well-known clever outlook, ready for the grab for space.” New Year’s card Johan van der Keuken and Noshka van der Lely, around the end of 1995, and Johan van der Keuken’s note to Herman Hertzberger, 4 November 1997, inv.no. HERTd191.
Text Riemke Boot, archivist Collection department
Johan van der Keuken - The Art I Love Most
In recent years, the Nederlands Fotomuseum has managed Johan van der Keuken’s (1938-2001) artistic legacy. Van der Keuken was a Dutch filmmaker, photographer, and essayist who gained national and international fame with his photos, photobooks, and films that explicitly transcend the boundaries between visual poetry and documentary. The exhibition featuring Johan van der Keuken’s work will be on display at the Nederlands Fotomuseum from 7 September 2022 to 5 February 2023.
Exhibition from 2014
The dual exhibition Structuralism offers a wealth of previously unseen material from Het Nieuwe Instituut and other archives. On view are, among others, photographs by Ed van der Elsken and Johan van der Keuken, Forum issues (with Apon, Bakema, Van Eyck, Hertzberger, Schrofer on the editorial board), work by Aldo van Eyck and, in alternating presentations, Piet Blom, Theo Bosch, Joop van Stigt and Jan Verhoeven. Herman Hertzberger, one of the best-known representatives of structuralism, shows material from his own archive.
Architectural Photography in the Collection
At the end of the 1990s, an inventory was taken of all the photographic material hidden in the collection of what was then the Netherlands Architecture Institute, today Het Nieuwe Instituut. The photographs were used by architects for publications, education and lectures, and were sometimes the bearers of new trends and ideologies. Drawing together prints and negatives from the different photographic archives allowed new insights into their historical and documentary value to emerge.