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At the moment Dutch author Peter van Dam (1948) is working on a monumental project: he is writing a series of meticulously researched books on 19th century The Hague architects. You know, The Hague, with all its Art Nouveau buildings. Lucky us! We just have to sit and wait while Peter is doing all the work. While he is doing all the research, and the writing… Everything you always wanted to know about The Hague Art Nouveau architecture will be delivered to you on a silver platter!

The Hague Architects in the 19th and 20th Century

The first book in Van Dam’s series was about architect Herman Wesstra Jr. (1843-1911). Now, Wesstra didn’t do Art Nouveau buildings, so he is not that interesting to us. But it starts getting interesting with book number two which is called W.B. van Liefland 1857-1919, eigenzinnig Haags architect en stedenbouwkundige (quirky The Hague architect and urban planner).

W.B. van Liefland 1857-1919

Wilhelmus Bernardus van Liefland (1857-1919)

Wilhelmus Bernardus van Liefland (1857-1919)

Van Liefland was an influential architect, an urban planner, a project developer, a land jobber and a politician. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his being a politician clashed with his other jobs. While the first part of the book describes Van Lieflands family and education, his political career, and his most representative projects, the second part is a chronological list of all his projects, built and unbuilt. And particularly the chapter about his political career I found interesting to read, as author Peter van Dam more than once quotes the press complaining about Van Lieflands controversial position in the city council and the inevitable conflict of interest. Van Liefland managed to stay put for almost 16 years though, and left his mark on the urban planning of The Hague as we know it.

Art Nouveau architecture by Van Liefland

Van Liefland started his career designing mainly in the neo-renaissance style. During the last two decades of his life however, he became one of the most prominent Dutch architects working in the Art Nouveau style. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, economic growth and prosperity, The Hague expanded. It’s streets transformed into shopping strips with transparent façades and electric lighting. And Scheveningen evolved into a mondain international seaside resort and a renowned Kurort. A modern style in architecture emerged: Art Nouveau.

Every time I read about the changes in life around 1900, I find it most fascinating to see how everything interlocked. The invention of the steam machine > mechanisation > industrialisation > mass production > people became more prosperous > people got more leisure time > they started doing things outside their homes > the emerging of theatres, café’s & restaurants > people enjoyed to sport, gallivant and shop > the Grand Tours (made possible by steam trains and steam boats) caused the emerging of hotels, resorts and a new art called Oriëntalism etc… horse-drawn trams were replaced by electric trams, small shops were replaced by larger ones built with the latest materials such as reinforced concrete, cast iron and wrought iron… New insights in hygiene (for instance by Louis Pasteur) asked for new building materials (such as ceramic tiles) and resulted in a rapid population growth and eventually in the demolishing of slums. And all these seemingly small but intertwined facts resulted around the turn of the century in a massive need for newly developed projects: new suburbs, seaside resorts, theaters, luxury shops, hotels, summer houses etc. And Van Liefland? Van Liefland was thriving in the middle of all these developments.

Veenkade 33, Den Haag

Hoogeveen & Co., Veenkade 33 The Hague

Now I know this is a book review, but I couldn’t resist so I took my camera with me and traveled to The Hague to see some of Van Lieflands projects in real life.

One of Van Lieflands iconic Art Nouveau buildings is a warehouse for J. Hoogeveen & Co., a hardware wholesaler at Veenkade 33. The construction of the project was commissioned to J. van den Elshout for fl. 16.900 (currently € 7.680). And the amazing thing is, that the hardware company is still located at the warehouse (listed as a monument in 1993, under number RM453013).

The building features many of the characteristics of Dutch Art Nouveau architecture: a mixture of different colours of brick (which are often glazed, but not in this case), combined with stone and reinforced concrete (that was made to looks like stone), visible steel beams with decorated riveting, horizontal bands in a contrasting colour/material, glazed tiles and horse shoe shaped windows. The only thing missing are the wrought iron railings, the bay windows and the turrets. But hey, it’s only a warehouse! Isn’t it extraordinary that this warehouse was designed with such refined details?

The Hague’s Seaside Resort Scheveningen

The book also documents Van Liefland’s Art Nouveau buildings that didn’t stand the test of time. Many of them used to be located at Scheveningen, The Hague’s seaside resort. The development of the beach as a popular leisure resort was the first manifestation of what we now know as the global tourist industry. The first seaside resorts were opened in the 18th century for the aristocracy, who began to frequent the seaside (as well as the then fashionable spa towns) for recreation and health. The extension of this form of leisure to the middle and working class began with the development of the railways, which offered cheap and affordable fares to fast growing resort towns.

The most impressive but nevertheless demolished Art Nouveau creations Van Liefland designed for Scheveningen are – to my humble opinion – these graceful achievements:

tentoonstellingsgebouw scheveningen 1891

Tentoonstellingsgebouw Scheveningen 1892

Peter van Dam has documented every tiny little detail about these spectacular buildings. His book is a delight for people who love Art Nouveau architecture and want to learn more about our Dutch architectural heritage. Browsing the book feels like being catapulted back to 1900 The Hague and I must confess I am loving it! On the other hand, the book also makes me realise how much has been demolished over the years and that makes me feel terribly sad. How on earth could these exquisite masterpieces have been destroyed without the whole Dutch population being up in arms!?!

Circustheater Scheveningen

Circus Scheveningen 1904

Palace Hotel with Shopping Arcade Scheveningen

Palace Hotel with Shopping Arcade Scheveningen 1909

In the 19th century, the phenomenon ‘pier’ blew over from the UK. Befóre the railways developed, people used to travel to seaside resorts by ship. And going ashore required a wooden gangway. But since the railways became more popular – and that happened 50 years earlier in the UK than on the continent – the experience of walking ashore over a wooden gangway vanished. The desire for a panoramic view over the sea however remained and the pier was soon ushered in. First a simple wooden construction, later a complete promenade pier with amusement pavilions and refreshment kiosks.

Design for the Pier and the shops by W.B. van Liefland and ir. Emile Wyhowski (drawing by A.F. Gips 1899)

Design for the pier and the arcade by W.B. van Liefland and ir. Emile Wyhowski (drawing by A.F. Gips 1899)

The first pier (1893) on the continent was the one at the Belgian seaside resort Blankenberge. It was soon replaced by a much better one, designed by Brussels engineer Emile Wyhowski. In 1895, Wyhowski submitted a plan for a pier at Scheveningen, which was ‘parked’ due to other building activities at the beach. Three years later, when the city council discussed yet another plan for a pier, ir. Lindo noted that this blue print looked an awful lot like the one they received three years earlier. Wyhowski accused Van Liefland of plagiarism. But Van Liefland replied that he would never try to sell someone elses work as his own and offered to put Wyhowski’s name on the design, next to his own.

It must be clear by now that this book by Peter van Dam is a treasure to indulge in for hours. It’s stuffed with old photographs from the city archives, newspaper clippings, quotes and anecdotes, drawings and blueprints. Reading this book almost feels like traveling back in time; so if I seem a bit distracted… it’s because I’m having my tea at the Kurhaus Restaurant and I am gazing at the seagulls while they fly around the elegantly dressed ladies walking up and down the pier. Do sit with me and watch this beautiful day pass by in slow-motion… Tea, my love?

Kurhaus Restaurant 1904

Kurhaus Restaurant 1904


W.B. van Liefland 1857-1919

Title: Haagse bouwmeesters in de 19e eeuw dl 2 – W.B. van Liefland 1857-1919
Author: Peter van Dam
Language: Dutch
ISBN: 9789460100642

You can order the book from Bol.com by clicking here.

When I asked Peter about future books in this comprehensive series, he told me part 3 will be published in September 2018. It covers the works of Lodewijk A.H. de Wolf (1871-1923), architect of the famous Krul tearooms. Part 4 is scheduled for the end  of 2019 and will cover the euvre of Johannes Mutters Jr. (1858-1930). Other architects that may follow are Zacharias Hoek (1863-1943) en Johannes Thomas Wouters (1866-1932). I am looking forward to read those new books already!

Source old photo’s and postcards: Beeldbank Haags Gemeentearchief

Read more
Harmonium at Scheveningen Pier
Photo’s of the Intern. Sports, Fishing & Horses Exhibition 1892
Review of this book in Dutch, in VVNK periodical 2017-02
Scheveningen Toen en Nu
Website of J. Hoogeveen & Co. (incl. historical pictures)
Wikipage about Peter van Dam
Wikipage about W.B. van Liefland

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