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This facade had been an eyesore for such a long time that I had almost given-up hope. The people who owned the place clearly didn’t care very much about architecture nor did they realize how special their shop was. Their shopfront looked hideous. But… as all good things come to an end, apparently bad things do too: there’s a new owner who investigated the architect’s drawings and had the shopfront restored to its original beauty. What a relief…

Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht

Unfortunately, the original gable was removed in 1954 as it was in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless are we able to enjoy the architect’s original design from 1897 thanks to the drawings at the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht (the city archives) and Kees Sigmond’s report for the Historical Association Oud-Dordrecht (magazine 2014-3).

Drawing Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht

Reus, Zijl and Berlage

In 1898 Izaak de Goeije commissioned local architect Hendrikus Adrianus Reus (1872-1935) to build him a new shop on the lot of a much older property. De Goeije was a businessman from Rotterdam, who already owned several buildings in Dordrecht.

Reus was still a young architect, barely 26 year old, when De Goeije contracted him. He had graduated in 1894 from the Rotterdam Academy, and moved to Amsterdam for two years. According to Loet Megens, whom I consider the expert on Reus’ life and work, it is very likely that Reus worked for Van Gendt architects during that time. And to be accepted as a student at Van Gendt, one of the major architects in Amsterdam, was considered a great honor. Van Gendt designed many important buildings in Amsterdam, and advised other eminent architects such as J.M. van der Mey, K.P.C. de Bazel en H.P. Berlage.

After Reus returned to Dordrecht, he worked on several projects with his father, who was also an architect. However, the young Reus had other ideas than Reus senior, and started to work for himself soon after. He was actually the first architect in Dordrecht moving away from the tradition to design according to previous styles. Reus began to develop his own style. Yet we can recognise the influence of the much older architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage, the “Father of Modern Architecture” in the Netherlands. Reus must have been introduced to Berlage during his time in Amsterdam.

When we approach Reus’ building, the first thing we notice are it’s red bricks. Reus ordered his bricks from the Dierense Steenfabriek J.M. van de Loo. I find it interesting that Reus designed this red building in Dordrecht while his ‘idol’ Berlage worked on the Commodity Exchange in Amsterdam; a building that is also characterized by it’s red bricks.

Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht - red bricks by J.M. van de Loo

But there’s more that links Reus to Berlage…

Amsterdam was sort of an incubator for the architectural scene. Genootschap Architectura et Amicitia, a Dutch architecture association founded in 1855, has played an imporant role in the development of Dutch architecture. Many leading architects as well as people from related disciplines have been a member: Springer, Cuypers, Van Gendt, Kromhout, De Klerk, De Bazel, Kramer, Berlage, Wijdeveld, Duiker, Rietveld, Van Der Vlugt, Dudok, Van Loghem and so on. Architectura et Amicitia was involved in the establishment of Vocational schools, they printed magazines, organised field trips, exhibitions and competitions. And there were numerous related societies, workshops and partnerships. So basically, all architects and artists knew each other!

Reus asked Lambertus Zijl (1866-1947) to make sculptures for his project in Dordrecht. The same Lambertus Zijl who made the sculptures for Berlage’s Commodity Exchange in Amsterdam! Zijl worked on both projects at the same time.

Lambertus Zijl (1866-1947)Lambertus Zijl is, together with Joseph Mendes da Costa, considered one of the most important innovators of sculpture around 1900. Under influence of the emerging rationalism, he moved away from the academic traditions, and got his inspiration from archaic and medieval sculpture. Building and sculptures were to be integrated, they were to become a so called ‘Gesamtkunstwerk‘.

Zijl developed a style where the shape of the sculpture was almost completely integrated in the facade, without protruding or attracting much attention. You can clearly see the similarities between his sculptures in Dordrecht (left and middle) and the one (right) in Amsterdam.

Sculpture Lambertus Zijl Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht Sculpture Lambertus Zijl Voorstraat 273, Dordrecht Lambertus Zijl Amsterdam

The columns are made of a grey stone in a classical division: base, shaft and capital; the capitals however are of a more yellow kind of stone. We don’t know what the images on the capitals mean, why they are there, but I think the first one is depicts a coin being paid into an open hand. The second one is easy; those are flowers. Same for the third one: two mice. But the last one… well, your guess is as good as mine. Kees Sigmond suggests they might be stylized lobsters.

Capital of a column by Lambertus Zijl number 1 Capital of a column by Lambertus Zijl number 2

Capital of a column by Lambertus Zijl number 2 Capital of a column by Lambertus Zijl number 4

Schaft of a column by Lambertus Zijl left Schaft of a column by Lambertus Zijl right

Lambertus Zijl is also credited for the sculptures at Voorstraat 380 en Wijnstraat 239 in Dordrecht. And I just realised that the sculptures on the Reus building at Groenmarkt 70 now need further investigation as we don’t know who sculpted them… but those are other stories waiting to be told.

Pleased to see that Art Nouveau architecture seems to be gaining appreciation once more, I contacted the owner of the building. I was curious about his motivations and learned that he invested a significant amount of money in the refurbishment of the building, as he wanted “to bring back the original beauty of the building and safeguard it for the next 100 years”. Being a schoolteacher (who wishes to remain anonymous), he has no other motives than “his love for architecture, craftsmanship and beautiful materials” knowing that he will never earn back the extra investment that was needed because he insisted on doing it right.

And thát, what he did, gives me hope. Hope for the future of the Art Nouveau architecture in my hometown. Hope for the future of neglected architecture in general. And hope for us. May this little renovation project in Dordrecht be the first of many!

Amsterdam 1900 – Van Gendt Architecten
Dordt Eigen-aardig – Jaap Bouman (Article AD, Stad en Regio, 20 January 2015)
Tijdschrift 2014-3 van Vereniging Oud-Dordrecht (De Dordtse bouwsculpturen van Lambertus Zijl – Kees Sigmond)
Journal Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Lambertus Zijl Biografie
Quellinusschool for Sculptors in Amsterdam
Van Gendt Architecten, Amsterdam
Wikipage Architectura et Amicitia
Wikipage Beurs van Berlage

Read more?

  • The complete historical report (dated April 2014) about this building can be obtained from the Monuments & Archeology Department at Dordrecht Cityhall. For more information, click here.
  • Albert van Engelenhoven, Dordtse Huizen in Bouwhistorisch Perspectief, afl. 3 (dec. 1998). This magazine is dedicated solely to the architecture of H.A. Reus.