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Herman Hertzberger

Herman Hertzberger in 1970.
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Herman Hertzberger in 1970.

A leading Dutch theorists and architect of the modern age, Herman Hertzberger was born on 6 July 1932 in Amsterdam. He graduated in Engineering and Architecture in 1958, from the Delft University of Technology as a student of Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999).

One of the main proponents of Dutch Structuralism, hertzberger started his own Practice in Amsterdam that same year. Along with practice Hertzberger has also been equally involved in theory and academia. He was a professor at Delft from 1970 to 1999, lectured at the University of Amsterdam from 1965-1969, and a visiting professor at the University of Geneva from 1982 to 1986 followed by professor from 1986 to 1993.


Hertzberger had already won a competition to design a student residence (1959-1966) in Amsterdam during his studies. As a young architect, Hertzberger showcased many of his design principles in this project which went on to become recurring signature features of his future work. Some of them are the evolution of a building over time, development of microcosms (the student house contains a restaurant, bookshop, bar and 250 student rooms). As Aldo Rossi rightly puts, “dynamic equilibrium between the individual and the community which Hertzberger puts at the center of his work”.

From 1959 to 1963, he collaborated with Aldo van Eyck and Jaap Bakema (members of Team 10) on Forum, a leading structuralist magazine.

His experience with Forum led him to further strengthen his “human dimension” in buildings, countering anonymous urban sprawl. This is visible in his Ministry of Social Affairs at The Hague (1979-1990) and the famous offices for a thousand employees at Central Beheer (1969-1972), which he describes as “symbolic of a new way of combining work and life without limits and hierarchies”.

His principle of the evolution of function and spaces of buildings over time is demonstrated with the Diagoon experimental housing (1967-1970). This housing complex, with 8 prototype houses that in principle were left incomplete at the time of handover to the client, and was therefore quite clearly an "incomplete project". Starting with a basic internal framework, with two fixed areas, which could accommodate many variations, the residents themselves were to decide how to divide their home, depending on their unique needs. Compared to a “normal” house, there was no rigid division between the living room and the sleeping area. Part of the space could be partitioned off to create a room, while the remaining area formed a sort of “inside balcony” surrounding the entire living area and could be furnished as required. Hertzberger calls this “an attempt to get away from a number of persistent stereotypes which still dominate housing today”.

Hertzberger designed numerous school buildings during his long career, including the Montessori School in Delft (1966). The building enables multiple simultaneous activities, without one disturbing the other.

Others include the Apollo (1983) and De Evenaar (1986) Schools, both in Amsterdam, Polygoon, Almere (1992), Anne Frank School, Papendrecht (1994) and more recently ABC School De Bron in Amersfoort (2012) and Twickel College, Hengelo (2016).

His body of work also includes Wohnhof LiMa a block closure, courtyard development on a corner plot that was a part of the International Building Exhibition IBA Berlin 1987 in Berlin. Hertzberger designed an open community living which does not shy away from interaction and transparency. Wohnhof LiMa, thanks to the initiative by the residents and their pressure on the authorities, has recently been listed as a monumental site. Other notable, large projects during the 1990s are the Gebaute Landschaft Office Park, Freising (Germany) and particularly the Chassé Theatre, Breda (1995, subsequently extended in 2018), described as almost “expressionist”.

Affiliation, awards and essays

Hertzberger is a honorary member of many academic institutions, primarily the Royal Institute of British Architects (since 1991), Academy of Arts, Berlin (1993), Academy of Design, Florence (1995), French Academy of Architecture (1997) and American Institute of Architects (AIA, 2004).

In 2012 he was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal. RIBA President Angela Brady, who chaired the Honours Committee which selected the Royal Gold Medal winner said:

“Herman Hertzberger has transformed the way we think about architecture, both as architects and people who use buildings. His architecture is about from and space which he defines as ‘place which has not been appropriated. Throughout his career his humanity has shone through in his schools, homes, theatres and workplaces."

Since 2015 his architectural practice operates under the acronym AHH, with a portfolio that includes urban planning, housing, offices, cultural and education buildings, in particular in the Netherlands.

His essays on architecture include Lessons for Students in Architecture (1991), an anthology of articles and lectures from 1973; Space and the Architect - Lessons in Architecture 2 (1999) and Space and Learning - Lessons in Architecture 3 (2008).

Zahara, June 18th, 2020