FRESH TRADITIONALISM

  • Private
  • Nieuwe Wetering
  • NL
  • 2004-2008
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The project concerns the replacement of an old, crumbled barn, attached to the main house, with a newly built volume that should provide the client with some extra space for living and the possibility to accommodate foreign guests.

It started from questioning the potential contemporary virtues of traditional architecture. Would it be possible to built a project that feels both fresh and traditional, while avoiding the traps of poor imitation or inappropriate pastiche that characterizes most of the work of architects nowadays involved with traditionalism in the Netherlands? Would it be possible to combine the liberating feeling of early Modernism, the optimistic and stimulating complexity of the open plan, with the accommodating quality of traditional architecture in a relaxed and self-evident manner in one coherent architectural volume? Would it, in other words, be possible to create something that is ‘both informal and highly polished’ as the architectural historian Vincent van Rossem writes in relation to the culture that was so perfectly expressed by the architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England around 1900 (‘The Lure of the Past in the Netherlands’, in: Architectural Imitations, Shaker Publishing 2005).

The new building mimics the plain, pitch-roofed volume of the existing barn. It obviously appears to be something new, but at the same time arouses memories of something that could have been here before. Is the old barn really gone? Or was it just remodelled? The new volume is made of brick, while the old one is remembered as being made of wood. The brickwork is specifically differentiated though; both newer and older parts mingle on the façade. Are these remaining parts of the former barn? But the new volume appears to be a little larger. Does the old barn still exist inside this new architectural shell? Or is it the other way around? The prominent, off-white concrete beams and columns accentuate the obviously new, freshly stuccoed interior, that literally seems to stick through the dark and traditionally looking façade. Strangely figured, old-fashioned looking and yellow coloured glass appears in some of the doors and windows. It is called ‘cathedral glass’ and it not only by its name seems to be a bit peculiar and out of place. It offers the interior a pleasant, golden and sunny glow, which evokes a nostalgic feeling of other times, as if reminding of the windshields that bordered the small terrace behind the house of one’s grandparents. Besides, it cheerfully signals the four entrance doors, formally emphasizing the openness and accessibility of the plan inside, while at the same time adding a sort of ‘pop’ accent to the austerity of the brick architecture. Finally, a large, brick chimney dominates every view of the building. It appears to be autonomous and freestanding, but at the same time seems to grow naturally from the new brickwork. It symbolizes domesticity and security, hearth and home, but also recalls the small-scale industrial past of the area and the story of the old bakery that once occupied the site. Grass is growing from the gutter.

Inside, the ambiguous perception of material, space and time continues. The open plan is structured by a continuous row of sliding doors following the central axis of the building. The doors are filled with the same peculiar ‘cathedral glass’ that one saw outside, obstructing the view, scattering the light and merely suggesting the presence of the spaces behind. Sliding the doors allows different spatial variations; the experience and remembrance of the space(s) can be altered for each different mood, function or occasion. The large windows in the façade can be pushed aside completely, opening up to the intimate, enclosed garden, transforming the space into a sort of veranda attached to the existing kitchen. Inside, outside, open, closed, structured, free; everything is mixed and turning in this surprisingly open and hybrid space. And can be arranged or adjusted as wished. Upstairs, the guestroom offers a view through the adjacent lots and buildings, into the seemingly endless perspective of the Dutch polder. The interior is finished with off-white clay plaster, almost literally mixing up the synthetic and rhetorical pure white space of Modernism with the more lively and natural raw material of traditional brick architecture.

So in many respects it’s hard to tell which is what and what was when. And it is to be expected that the already troubled perception of this elaborated construction of material, form and space will increasingly deteriorate in the course of time, consolidating the inherent historical continuity (or should one say falsification?) of the new.

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