H.P. Berlage is one of Holland's first modern architects. He was a student of Gotfried Semper, who not only taught him a renaissance style but, more importantly, also that the use of ornaments should not be a goal in itself. Later, the works of Viollet-le-Duc made him see that a historic style should not be copied when designing a modern building. As a result he started to look for a new style, a new way of creating unity in a building. He developed a rational style, using geometrical plans and geometrical shapes.
In a building by Berlage the construction used is always shown and often functions as a decoration. So for instance iron bars for strengthening the construction are included in the decoration without being covered up.
He demanded that the materials used should always show and should be used according to their nature. So for instance a straight piece of wood shouldn't be bent and oak shouldn't be made to look like ebony or mahogany.
Berlage isn't a functionalist because he didn't reject ornaments. He did however demand that they form an integral part of the design and are not just attached to it. For instance the sculptures on Berlage's buildings are always a part of the wall or the corner that they are set in.
His favourite building material was brick because it gives visual strength and mass to the walls. He even used it for the inner walls of private houses. In this way he reached a unity in the interior and exterior of his buildings. By using bands of differently coloured bricks as decoration he lessened the massiveness of such inner walls while at the same time enhancing their mutual correspondence.
Berlage also designed the furniture for his buildings. When designing furniture he applied the same demands on material and decoration as he did wen designing a building. The furniture was also sold at "Het Binnenhuis", a shop in Amsterdam which was founded by Berlage and J. van den Bosch. This shop plays a very important role in the history of the Nieuwe Kunst, the typpicaly Dutch version of Art Nouveau. A lot of leading artists made designs for it.
Berlage's rational style didn't result in unimaginative designs. This is very well illustrated by the ground plan for "St. Hubertus"(1914-1920), a house built for the Kroller-Müller family as a hunting resort. It is in the shape of antlers, which clearly has a relation to the function of the house and with the legend of St. Hubertus. The colors used in the rooms also reflect the legend. The house is entered through a dark hall and every following room is lighter than the previous one. In the legend St. Hubertus was a hunter who lived carelessly until a deer with a lighting cross between its antlers warned him for his way of life. As a result he was converted to a life of virtue. "From the darkness into the light" is a well-known theme in Art Nouveau.
The first building in which Berlage used his rational style is the "Beurs"(1898-1903) in Amsterdam. It is also his greatest achievment, because it is the culminating point of 19th century architecture as well as the strarting point of 20th century architecture in Holland. Both the architects of the functionalist movement "De Stijl", like Gerrit Rietveld and J.J.P. Oud, and the architects of the expressionist movement "Amsterdamse School", like Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk used the "Beurs" as their starting point for their radical developments.
Berlage's work and ideals fit in well with the movement of renewal in architecture of the "Fin de Siecle". It can be compared with German Jugendstil, Austrian Sezession and the English Modern Movement. He was a great admirer of the American archtects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. He was strongly opposed to the French and Belgian style of Art Nouveau. In it he saw the same errors of classicism but translated into different shapes.
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