From the beginning of September, the Rijksmuseum is once again exhibiting several loans from Het Nieuwe Instituut. Catalogues and photographs of Gispen furniture, Willem Wissing’s housing designs and Van den Broek & Bakema’s urban planning vision for Pampus are on view as part of a twentieth-century display about modernism at three scales: furniture, housing and the city. The designs symbolise an optimistic belief in the ability of design to create a better world. The loans are part of a long-term co-curatorship programme between Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Rijksmuseum.
Gispen is a hundred years old this year. Begun as a smithy in Rotterdam in 1916, the company became well known in the 1920s and 1930s for its modern, tubular-steel furniture: functionalist designs without decoration. The company’s production methods were groundbreaking, introducing standardisation and serial production to the Dutch furniture market with the aim of creating affordable products for everyday use.
The designs were publicised through equally spectacular adverts, posters and catalogues, designed by the best designers of the period. The designs are characterised by the use of primary colours – mainly red – and experimental composition techniques such as collage. New products demanded a new visual idiom. Gispen became synonymous with modernity in the Netherlands. Many of Gispen’s lamps and items of furniture are on display in Sonneveld House, the villa designed by architects Brinkman & Van der Vlugt and now a museum managed by Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Willem Wissing (1920-2008) was an architect and urban planner. From the mid-1950s, he designed numerous structural and expansion plans driven by the modernist principles of ‘light, air and space’. The neighbourhoods he designed consist not of closed blocks but of open bands of housing with large amounts of green space. These bands are made up of different housing types, including single-family houses, apartments and housing for the elderly, thus creating spatial variation.
Combatting the housing shortage was one of the government’s most important tasks in this period. As such, Wissing’s designs are characterised by simplicity, industrialised construction methods and standardised floor plans. The government issued catalogues with standard floor plans from which municipalities could choose; these included Wissing’s housing designs. This enabled rapid construction and high quality housing for all. Wissing’s houses were small by today’s standards, but were efficiently designed with built-in cupboards and serving hatches. Wissing designed the well-known ‘doorzonwoning’, a house with a living room arranged across the entire depth of the ground floor, with windows at the front and back, allowing sunlight to penetrate from both ends. This housing type can still be seen throughout the Netherlands. In the post-war years, houses of this kind in a green neighbourhood were an unprecedented luxury for many people.
Van den Broek & Bakema’s Utopia
In 1964, on its own initiative, the architecture practice Van den Broek & Bakema made a design for the eastward expansion of Amsterdam. Their proposal was a response to the rapid growth of the Dutch population and increased urbanisation between 1947 and 1960. Van den Broek & Bakema’s plan for Pampus envisioned a new neighbourhood for 350,000 people. The elongated city is spread across four artificial islands in the IJmeer. The individual areas are connected by a traffic artery comprising a partially subterranean, six-lane motorway and a monorail system. This thoroughfare is lined with tall, disc-like buildings containing shops, offices and housing.
The perspective drawing shows the dynamism of one of the traffic hubs: people are shopping on a broad promenade amid the zooming traffic. The buildings become lower and less dense towards the edges of the islands so that the residents can enjoy the landscape and water. The Van den Broek & Bakema archive is one of the most valuable collections in Het Nieuwe Instituut. The practice was a generator of new ideas about architecture, the city and the society of the future.
Text Andrea Prins
Since 2013 Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Rijksmuseum have operated a co-curatorship programme for the Rijksmuseum’s twentieth-century displays. Every three months a new selection is made from Het Nieuwe Instituut’s archives, with a focus on two periods: the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 1930s, and the 1950s and 1960s. The Rijksmuseum takes care of the conservation and, where required, restoration of the drawings. Earlier selections have included works by Piet Blom, Hendrik Wijdeveld, Gerrit Rietveld, Jan Duiker, Cornelis van Eesteren and Herman Hertzberger.