The exhibition Finders Keepers presents collections of valuable and worthless objects and the fascinating stories behind them. The collector selects and combines objects to create a narrative, sometimes in a scholarly manner, sometimes from an obsessive urge. The State Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning is, in fact, a collection of collections. Within individual archives yet smaller collections can be identified. Finders Keepers features several of these collections that reveal something of the collectors’ motivations.
Gerrit Rietveld’s (mini) models
The State Archive contains approximately 75 models by the architect and furniture maker Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). Most of the models represent houses, luxury villas and furniture. They are small – some fit into the palm of your hand – and detailed, with removable floors and mini Zigzag chairs. Their small size and light weight made it easy for Rietveld to carry them to client meetings.
Rietveld made the models from simple materials such as glass, cardboard and wood and recycled objects such as matchboxes, postcards, enveloped and beermats. The models lack refinement because Rietveld saw them not as artworks but as tools to facilitate a dialogue about the architectural design. Thus the client was not confronted with an apparently finished design but with a provisional model that was still open to fresh insights, new desires and possibilities.
The Van ’t Hoff chest
‘The Van ’t Hoff chest’ contains ten panels with designs by the architect Robert van ’t Hoff (1887-1979), which he selected around 1941 for a presentation of his work in Edinburgh. He excluded at least half of his designs from this selection. At the age of 86, he personally donated this limited selection of his work to the Netherlands Documentation Centre for Architecture, one of the predecessors of Het Nieuwe Instituut. Van ’t Hoff designed and made the chest himself and signed it with his initials. It constitutes a hermetic world. It would have been almost impossible to add or remove a design at a later date. It seems that Van ’t Hoff wanted to fix his legacy for eternity: this is my work, now and forever.
Van ’t Hoff was one of the most radical architects of the 20th century because of his anarchist beliefs. But he omits this aspect of his work from this respectable survey. Possibly out of disappointment at the failure to achieve his ideal of an egalitarian society. By transferring this severely edited selection of his work to a state organisation, he wished to control the perception of his oeuvre. Later exhibitions and publications on Van ’t Hoff show that this attempt to edit his output was in vain.
Leendert van Roosendaal’s Anchor stone building blocks
In 1976, a serious collector of Anchor stone building blocks asked the director of the Netherlands Documentation Centre for Architecture, one of the predecessors of Het Nieuwe Instituut, to consider preserving the many collections of Anchor building blocks in the Netherlands. Together with other collectors, he urged the cataloguing of these collections, publicity, the creation of a Building Block Room (where enthusiasts could actually build) and the establishment of an ‘Anchor Friends’ organisation. This initial request led in the 1980s to the acquisition of a box of Anchor building blocks.
This box of building blocks is described in the acquisitions file of the State Archive as: Collection of Leendert van Roosendaal (1912-1982) comprising a box with 160 sets of Richter Anchor building blocks and metal components detailed in the written inventory list. This list details the precise number of blocks: 1226 different sorts, executed in red, grey-white, blue and green. In total the sets contain 25,409 blocks, 46 glass components, 430 iron components and 80 paper ‘building blocks’.
The first Anchor building blocks were launched in Germany as Anker-Steinbaukasten at the end of the 19th century. They were developed by the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal and his brother Gustav, an architect and social reformer. Accompanied by detailed illustrated instructions, the sets could be used to recreate houses, churches, bridges and palaces, some of them based on existing structures. The Anchor building blocks differed from Lego or Meccano in that they were made from real stone rather than plastic. The Anchor collecting craze was encouraged by regular launches of new sets.
Van Lohuizen’s card index boxes
The urban planner Theodor Karel van Lohuizen (1890-1956) studied civil engineering at Delft University of Technology. Throughout his career, he approached spatial and social issues in an integrated fashion and attempted to discern patterns in the growth of settlements.
As professor at the Delft University of Technology, he instigated research into urban planning. In addition to collecting socio-economic information, he was concerned with the development of a scientific methodology. The so-called ‘Settlement Research’, which began around 1950, had an exploratory character. For students it was difficult to determine how to interpret the research materials. They had the impression that Van Lohuizen did not know in advance what he wanted to get from the research. His was primarily an intuitive working method.
The research project attempted to identify patterns in the growth of Dutch settlements. A file was created for each town, village and hamlet in the Netherlands, to which a detail from the topographical map (scale 1:25,000) was attached, with information from various censuses. Each file contained population figures and numbers of households in 1920, 1930 and 1947 and data on how the population growth related to national averages. The files also stated each settlement’s score on the economic index. Recent MULO (advanced elementary school) graduates did the cutting and pasting work. The student assistants had to classify the collected data in order to reveal patterns.
It was an open-ended experiment without concrete results, but it is also an excellent example of Van Lohuizen’s passion for documentation, through which he attempted to understand the relationship between space and society.