Here, working more on the ideas of the tower and remembering after the Easter vacation our trip to The Neatherlands.
We were around 40 students and, like always, we had to present a building of the city. In my case, I presented Sonneveld House of Brinkman and Van der Vlugt architects.
The Sonneveld House is a historic example of Nieuwe Bouwen, the Dutch branch of functionalism that emerged early in the 20th century and reached its climax in the years between the two world wars. The designers based their designs on the intended function of the building and the needs of its users.
The Nieuwe Bouwen architects were keen to adopt modern technologies and building materials, such as concrete and steel frames. Through the use of these techniques, they hoped to create efficient, hygienic buildings. They also emphasized the importance of a functional ground plan with an open and preferably flexible space layout. They wanted the building to make a transparent, airy impression, in contrast to the closed volumes of traditional architecture. Their goal was a healthy living environment with ample fresh air and sunlight. “Light, air and space” became the slogan of the Nieuwe Bouwen movement.
The principles of Nieuwe Bouwen are quite prominent in the Sonneveld House. Both the front and rear facades have wide strips of fenestration. These windows admit a flood of daylight to all the rooms of the house. The large number of doors opening onto the garden or the balconies encouraged an intensive use of the surrounding space. The structure of a steel skeleton with concrete floors made loadbearing walls superfluous, allowing for a free configuration of the interior space. Internal walls acted merely as partitions between rooms.
Besides conforming to the credo of Nieuwe Bouwen, the Sonneveld House complied with the five principles of Le Corbusier. He aimed to open up the house to the outside world by giving it balconies and roof gardens. The ground plan had to be free of load-bearing walls, and the outer walls had to be like a curtain, similarly without a structural function. Le Corbusier had a preference for horizontal strip windows, if possible extending the whole length of the facade, and propagated “elevated living,” which involved raising the house above the ground. The elevated living principle was well suited to the Sonneveld House, since the clients wanted an integral garage. The main living areas of the house were not at ground floor level but on the first and second floors.
The first sketches for the Sonneveld House were made as early as 1929, the final building specifications were ready in 1932, and the house was completed and handed over in 1933. The substantial set of design drawing for the house has been preserved in its entirety. These drawings have made it possible to follow not only the architects’ design process but also their interactions with their clients, the Sonneveld family.
The garden of the Sonneveld House is part of the total concept that the firm of Brinkman & Van der Vlugt designed for the Sonneveld family. The house and garden are a carefully composed whole in the spirit of Nieuwe Bouwen: a healthy living environment with plenty of fresh air and sunlight. Modern living was something you did outdoors as well as indoors. It is an austere garden with a simple layout that we can see as an extension of the interior.
Ideas about healthy living and an active outdoor life underlay the design of the garden. The balconies, roof terrace, veranda and garden enabled the occupiers to make intensive use of the outdoor space for fresh air, sunshine, leisure and relaxation. That the house and garden did indeed function in this way is shown by the countless snapshots of members of the family in the garden or on the balconies.
The lines of the house are repeated in the garden design. The stepped hedges and terraces echo the rectangular steps in the house facade. To the West of the retaining wall between the terraces, the garden was fairly static in design, with sharp, taut lines and without transitional zones between horizontal and vertical lines. This “public” part of the garden, visible from the road, was dominated by lawns and geometrically trimmed evergreen hedges.
The area East of the retaining wall was intended for the private use of the Sonneveld family and their guests. In the original design, this part of the garden was strictly separated from the house entrance and garage ramp. It was at a slightly lower level and was more fluid and dynamic in its composition. Low plants gradually gave way to taller ones, and the margins of the lawn were softened by a proliferation of plants growing over them.
Brinkman and Van der Vlugt backed up their design with a careful study of the family’s lifestyle. The residents’ and staff’s spaces were kept strictly separate. The rooms were finished in different colors to match the preference of individual family members. They architects also took a detailed interest in the interior layout, even deciding how the furniture was to be arranged.