Archive for February 25, 2012

Herman Hertzberger – 2012 RIBA Gold Medal Winner

February 25, 2012 1 comment

When I was doing my Architecture Degree at Leeds Poly in the late 1980’s, this big pink book of the work of the Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger was my bible…

It consists solely of black and white photos and line drawings which depict a wide selection of generally austere, and rather unassuming looking buildings, constructed almost entirely from a limited selection of basic materials, which in the illustrations all look like shades of grey… I’m not selling it to you am I?

But the main attraction for me (as for most others I suspect) were the plans and the sections… This was (and still is) a man who understands how people interact with and use the spaces around them: children, adults, office workers, teachers…

All Hertzberger’s buildings are beautifully planned; efficient, exciting often surprising. They have at their heart a simplicity that stems from his belief in Structuralism, that it was not the architects primary job to design a fully finished building, but more to provide a spatial framework into which the inhabitants: students, workers, residents etc, could fill their day to day lives.

So whilst the utilitarian aesthetics may not be to everyone’s taste, for me, as an enthusiastic young student (who if I’m honest was far better at space planning than I was at projecting elevations), Hertzberger’s work had a functional honesty both in his choice of materials and his adherence to form following function, that appealed to me very much..

Maybe it’s because his buildings are not generally considered beautiful, that Herman Hertzberger is not more widely known outside my profession. Within architectural circles however it’s rather different, and I think it is excellent news that he has won the 2012 RIBA Gold Medal, awarded annually to a person or practice whose influence on architecture is considered to be international.

Possibly Hertzberger’s most well known work is the Centraal Beheer development in Apeldoorn, an open plan headquarters building for a large Dutch insurance company that was built between 1968 and 1972. The building was envisaged as a village in which the occupants ‘would have the feeling of being part of a working community without being lost in the crowd’. Platforms separated by light wells allowed light to filter down into the centre of the plan, and the unfinished quality of the materials encouraged small groups of staff to personalise and decorate their spaces. The company actively encouraged a sense of the family to enter the office and many workers actually brought pieces of furniture and members of their family from home into work.

Hertzberger’s work for the Montessori Schools is also consistently excellent, where his use of open plan layouts and incidental sitting and meeting places, allowed the children to use and interpret the spaces available within and around the building to their maximum extent.

As usual Dezeen is a step ahead and there is a good selection of images of Hertzberger’s buildings here.

%d bloggers like this: