Old versus new

Suppose that tomorrow we see the following headline in the newspaper: “Project developer introduces new shopping concept in The Hague city centre!”. The accompanying article then reads: “The new complex will be 160 metres long and 7 metres wide. To make room for this, 34 existing shop premises will be demolished”.

Pressure groups

Residents of The Hague who were having their coffee at that time would seriously choke. Newspaper readers would pick up their pens to write angry letters to the editor and social media users would post, share and like protest messages. At least one pressure group would be formed, because we would not tolerate such an intervention in the historic city centre of The Hague today.

Passage

These thoughts often cross my mind when I walk through our beautiful Passage in The Hague. For in the late 19th century, 34 buildings were indeed demolished in order to build our gem in the city centre. On 18 July 1884, the young Miss Louise Eliza Uytenhoven, aged 4, laid the first stone and in 1885, Hagenaars could enjoy a new shopping concept.

Gravenstraat, gezien van het Buitenhof naar de Groenmarkt - ca 1880 - Coll HGA
Gravenstraat, gezien van het Buitenhof naar de Groenmarkt - ca 1880 - Coll HGA
Passage
Passage

Am I secretly glad that around 1880 the citizens of The Hague were more amenable than they are now? Perhaps I am. Do I think that all demolition for construction of new buildings should go ahead without any critical thought? I do not think so.

Because when I see pictures of the Huygenshuis on the Plein, I think it’s an eternal shame that it was demolished and replaced by the Department of Justice in neo-Renaissance style.

 

Het Plein huis van Constantijn Huygens (l.), Mauritshuis (m.) , huis van Johan de Bruyn van Buytewegh (r.) - J. van Call - ca 1690 - Coll HGA
Het Plein huis van Constantijn Huygens (l.), Mauritshuis (m.) , huis van Johan de Bruyn van Buytewegh (r.) - J. van Call - ca 1690 - Coll HGA
Voormalig Departement van Justitie - Plein
Voormalig Departement van Justitie - Plein

New School of The Hague

And I would like to show visitors from Dordrecht their city’s lodge that once stood on the corner of Tournooiveld and Lange Vijverberg.

Het huis van Jonkheer Mr. H.I. Caan Tournooiveld tussen Lange Vijverberg en Hoge Nieuwstraat - ca 1850 - Coll. HGA
Het huis van Jonkheer Mr. H.I. Caan Tournooiveld tussen Lange Vijverberg en Hoge Nieuwstraat - ca 1850 - Coll. HGA

 But wait, that’s the spot where I now regularly stand to sing the praises of the “schoone eenheid (beautiful unity)* of the New School of The Hague  whilst  looking  at the creation of architect A.P. Smits.

Tournooiveld - Lange Vijverberg Nieuwe Haagse School Smits 1
Tournooiveld - Lange Vijverberg Nieuwe Haagse School Smits
Tournooiveld - Lange Vijverberg Nieuwe Haagse School Smits 2
Tournooiveld - Lange Vijverberg Nieuwe Haagse School Smits

An architectural style that has made a comeback, by the way. Advertisements for new construction projects often include “in the much-loved thirties style” among the enticements to purchase.   Property developers and architects also look back even further in time, as we can see in the district Vroondaal, where Statenkwartier is copied.

We live again in a time of historicising new constructions, which results in architectural styles you might name Neo New School of The Hague and Neo Neo Renaissance. However, these styles are only reflected on the facades.  Inside, residential floor plans are likely to feature large L-shaped rooms with open kitchens,  rather than the charming rooms en suite with sliding doors found in many older residences in The Hague.

Combining old and new

And well, why not combine old and new? I would be disappointed if buildings, also in the inner city, were only copies of older styles. And I don’t like the idea that in a hundred years’ time people would judge my lifetime with: “They really didn’t know how to come up with anything new back then”.

On the Plaats, the medieval Gevangenpoort stands in good company with a large number of 19th and 20th-century façades. Cigarette-shaped lampposts have now been added. I think their contemporary design is a nice addition,  although the light they radiate in the dark is rather cold. So there’s always something to discuss.

Plaats - Sigaretvormige lantaarnpaal
Plaats - Sigaretvormige lantaarnpaal

Do you also find it fun and interesting to think about and discuss ‘old versus new’? Then you should definitely join one of my city walks or bike tours.

*’Schoone eenheid’

is the title of a beautiful book about the architecture of the New School of The Hague. Written by Marcel Teunissen and others. Still available second-hand or on loan from the Haagse Bibliotheek.

A second book by the same author is still available: : 100 jaar Nieuwe Haagse School – de toekomst van het verleden.

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3 thoughts on “Old versus new”

  1. What a thoughtful essay, Ms. Alders, thank you for sharing your opinions about how time, contemporary needs & urban design should address the existing built environment.

    Dave Jack

  2. Owen Richard Langdale

    When the Louvre had the glass pyramid inserted bluntly in the middle of the courtyard it was at first to my eyes a bit of an eyesore yet today I rather like it and it sort of blends in – thank goodness it wasn’t coloured red or yellow or something equally bold. I just adore the former Justice building on the Plein. Yes, what was there previously was great too but its successor is every bit as good and maybe just a little grander, dare I say bolder. Many very old buildings just didn’t last the distance because of failing foundations, fires and changing tastes. Many of the mistakes of architecture following WW2 have gradually been replaced by better architecture but nowhere today do architects design and builders build with a view of infinity – exceptionally few 21stC structures are with a life expectancy of more than 40-50 years. What a shame!

    PS Here in Australia we would likely never ever commission a building like the Sydney Opera House (built in mid 1960’s) because it would just be too expensive on a $/sqm costing.

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Tour Guide Jacqueline Alders
Personal, with humour!

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