Johannes Duiker

Architect, the Netherlands
Although relatively unknown outside his native land during his brief life span, today
Johannes Duiker is recognized as among the foremost representatives of the Nieuwe Bouwen, the Dutch
version of functionalism, or neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). The buildings of his maturity,
composed of crystalline volumes of great purity, executed without superfluous details,
rationally fulfill function while expressing modernity in all its spare beauty. The exciting
possibilities of 20th-century technique are transformed into radiant forms that engage the
mind and lift the spirit.
Duiker’s work cannot be discussed without citing two other Dutchmen, Bernard
Bijvoet (1889–1980) and the civil engineer Jan Gerko Wiebenga (1886–1974), with
whom Duiker frequently collaborated, thus honoring one of the ideals of the modern
movement: its stated emphasis on architecture as a cooperative profession. Although
Duiker’s lyrical architectural vision dominates, realization of the oeuvre is a result of
teamwork.
Like so many of their peers, Duiker and Bijvoet would achieve recognition through
competitions. Already in 1913 they won first prize for a church, never built, but their
entry of 1916 for the Karenhuizen, an elders’ hostel in Alkmaar, became their first
executed work (1918). They next triumphed in the most prestigious contest of the day,
that for the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam in 1917 (Michel de Klerk, the leader of
the Amsterdam School, came in second); although their striking design, heavily
influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, would never be erected, the prize money allowed
them to establish a partnership that would continue even after Bijvoet moved to Paris in
1925 to work for Pierre Chareau.
Duiker’s production can be divided into three phases. In the first, from 1913 to 1923,
he employed the traditional Dutch vocabulary of brick with stone trim, wooden sash, and
tile roofs and followed the lead of H.P.Berlage, the doyen of Dutch architecture. The
majority of commissions from this period are domestic, whether for groups of urban
townhouses or clusters of villas at Kijkduin (1919–23), all in The Hague. The next,
transitional period is foreshadowed in the entry to the Chicago Tribune Competition
(1922), which is indebted to De Stijl, a movement that Duiker would later criticize for its
aestheticism. However, it was in 1924, when Duiker discovered skeletal structures, that
the major shift toward a personal language appeared. This occurred at Stommeerkade 64
(1924) in Aalsmeer, a country house supported by a wooden frame and based on novel
motifs: shed (monopitch) roofs, window bands that turn the corner, a projecting circular
stair, and horizontal wooden siding. The interior spaces are clearly articulated in the
exterior massing. It is but a short step to the reinforced-concrete-and-steel skeletons and
glazed curtain walls of Duiker’s mature phase, which commenced with the Laundry in
Diemen (1924; extension 1925), built for the Koperen Stelenfonds (KSF, Copper Wire
Fund) of the ANDB (Netherlands Diamond Workers Union), which raised money by
retrieving and selling copper wire used in the diamond polishing process.
Entries A–F 709
The encounter with this new client might have occurred as early as 1919 and was
brought about through Berlage’s recommendation. It equals in importance Duiker’s
introduction to skeletal construction, for several major projects were commissioned by
this socially conscious body dedicated to the well-being of employees of one of the main
industries in Amsterdam, namely, the preparation of diamonds for the international
market. The most extensive was for the sanatorium Zonnestraal (Sunshine) in Hilversum,
which received its definitive formulation in 1925 and was completed in 1928 to great
acclaim. The program was perfectly suited to Duiker’s growing concern with health, and
he utilized his new mastery of concrete construction to fashion a luminous series of
buildings intended to speed recovery from tuberculosis, an occupational hazard of the
diamond workers.
Duiker’s concurrent preoccupation with mass production and the tall building resulted
in a book, Hoogbouw (1930), and a block of flats in The Hague, Nirwana (1927–30), both done in
collaboration with Wiebenga. American skyscrapers had captured the European
imagination and led to many fantastic projects, above all in Germany and the
Netherlands, but the modestly scaled Nirwana, comprising six stories of apartments set
between a ground story and a penthouse, seemed eminently feasible. It was intended as a
prototype, but despite structural innovations, the envisaged economies did not come
about, and the handsome building with its ingeniously designed corner windows remains
a unique example.
In 1928, Duiker joined the polemical Amsterdam group De 8, founded in 1927, and
was elected president in 1932. That same year he became the first editor of De 8 en Opbouw, the
periodical published jointly with the similarly functionalist Opbow (Construct), established in
1920 in Rotterdam. From 1932 to 1935, Duiker filled its pages with thoughtful
commentary on the nature of the new architecture and, by extension, the new society,
shaped by scientific progress and mechanization, that it was to serve. When the Nieuwe Bouwen was
criticized for its utilitarianism, Duiker responded that it was spiritual rather than
monetary economy he sought, utilizing new materials to dematerialize architecture and
embody the quickened tempo of modern life.
The four-story Fresh [Open-Air] School for the Healthy Child, (Amsterdam, 1929–30)
complements Duiker’s interest in hygiene, manifested at Zonnestraal, and maintains the
vocab ulary of exposed reinforced-concrete frame and window walls. Set behind an entry
building that dramatically spans the existing dwellings on the Cliostraat in Amsterdam,
the school demonstrates how Duiker achieved magic with the simplest and most direct
means.
One year before his death, Duiker received commissions for three significant
buildings, including the newsreel cinema Cineac (Amsterdam, 1934), ingeniously fitted
onto a miniscule plot and identified by a striking neon sign set high above the street, and
the department store Winter (Amsterdam, 1934), its transparent curtain wall stretching
the length of the facade to facilitate tempting views of the merchandise. He also began
work on the Grand Hotel and Theater Gooiland (1934–36) in Hilversum; after his death,
Bijvoet came from Paris to see to its execution, apparently adding a few touches of his
own.
Although Duiker rarely left the Netherlands, he was conversant with international
architectural events. With Wiebenga he submitted an entry to the League of Nations
competition, and although he was not present at the founding meeting of the Congrès
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 710
Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in 1928, he participated in its third
conference on Rationelle Bebauungsweisen (1930) by sending a project for exhibition.
Throughout his professional career, Duiker followed advances in the natural sciences and
mathematics, believing that they pointed the way to an architecture that would free rather
than constrain its occupants and encourage them to pursue a wholesome lifestyle
invigorated by physical health and spiritual enlightenment.

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