Laureate – RIBA – "Royal Gold Medal 2012: Herman Hertzberger"
Excerpt from the article:
« For the Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger the structure of a building is not an end in itself, it is literally the framework for the life that goes on inside it, a life that is determined by its users. This goes for a school, a home or an office – all building types that he has transformed in a 50-year career in architecture.
Herman Hertzberger was one of the leaders in the movement away from functionalism in the mid-20th century. Influenced by semiotics, linguistics and structural rationalism, he sought to identify an underlying order in a building’s construction that is not related purely to its function. He saw this as analogous to the deep grammatical structures in language explored by Claude Lévi-Strauss; just as grammar is brought to life in speech, so the fundamental tectonic order in buildings is given social meaning by the way in which they are inhabited. Because for Hertzberger inhabitation is all.
Structurally, Hertzberger’s buildings are characterised by a clear articulation of the supporting lattice. This creates a series of cellular zones within which minor elements like sills, benches and thresholds are used to prompt human occupation. His debt to anthropology is manifested in his particular concern for these defined territories which are both joined and separated by liminal or threshold elements. These ‘in-between’ pieces set up a dialogue between adjacent spatial orders, as well as encourage social interaction.
As a discipline, architecture is a continuous unfolding dialogue between tectonic organisation and social meaning. The user of a building is encouraged to change its underlying organisation by occupying it creatively. So although the construction does not in itself have meaning, it creates a space where meaning can be defined.
Hertzberger took his spiritual leadership from the work of Aldo van Eyck, one of the team X (along with Jaap Bakema, Giancarlo De Carlo, and Alison and Peter Smithson) – the movement that led to both structuralism and the new brutalism. Between 1959 and 1963, with Bakema and Van Eyck, he edited the journal Forum, which became the mouthpiece for structuralism in architecture. In his books, based in part on his lectures at Delft University of Technology, Lessons for Students in Architecture (1991), Space and the Architect: Lessons in Architecture 2 (1999) and Space and Learning (2008) he not only outlined his ideas and principles, but also discussed his sources of inspiration such as the Egyptian pyramids, the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus, the benches in the Parc Güell of Antoni Gaudi, the Pueblos in Arizona, the Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, as well as Le Corbusier’s early work. In one of his earliest buildings the Student Housing in Amsterdam (1959-66), designed while he was still a student himself at the Polytechnic of Delft, his admiration for the roof zone of the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille is clear. Meanwhile his pre-occupation with the city as the highest manifestation of the socialisation of mankind is evidenced by his co-founding and acting as the first Dean of the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam, an architecture school set up as a laboratory for urbanism and the built environment. »
(Source: RIBA via Léa-Catherine Szacka)
(Photos: Front page: Lin Mij Textile Workshop, Amsterdam Photographer: Jan Versnel. Top: Herman Hertzberger Photgrapher: Hans van den Bogaard)