One modernist masterpiece a day will make you love The Hague

My 5 favorite modernist buildings of the interwar period

Slava Shestopalov 🇺🇦
5 a.m. Magazine
Published in
10 min readApr 6, 2024


© All photos by Slava Shestopalov

I’ve been residing in The Hague for about six months. During February, I decided to explore notable examples of Dutch modernism every day after work and capture some nighttime scenes. Here’s what I came across: a museum, a parking garage, an apartment block, a shopping center, and a townhouse complex.

1. Monday: Kunstmuseum (1931–1935)

The Art Museum of The Hague inspired me to start this photo series and was the first place I visited with the intent to take evening pictures. I first caught sight of this building during one of my commutes: its bright yellow facade was glowing against the deep blue sky.

This is probably the most classical view of the museum — with a pond reflection.

The design of this exquisite building belongs to Hendrik Berlage, a famous Dutch architect and leader of the Rationalism movement. His work marked the beginning of modern architecture in the Netherlands as the 19th century gave way to the 20th and preceded the famous Amsterdam School style, which appeared later in opposition to Rationalism.

A pathway leading from the gate to the main building traverses over the serene pond.

Although Berlage passed away in 1934 before the completion of the building, his legacy lives on within its walls. The museum boasts an impressive collection of items crafted by Berlage himself, including furniture such as chairs, desks, rugs, and cabinets, as well as drawings and tableware like vases, carafes, and cups.

At first, I didn’t grasp what made this scene so captivating, but then I got it: the blue-and-yellow color combination bore a striking resemblance to the flag of my homeland, Ukraine.

But this museum is known to the public not by Berlage’s heritage; people visit this place to see masterpieces of another renowned Dutch, Piet Mondriaan. One of the highlights is the artist’s last piece, “Victory Boogie Woogie.” He was passionately refining it during the final days of his life in 1944, but unfortunately, he didn’t finish it. That’s how the work is displayed now, capturing Mondriaan’s final creative process.

Researchers examined the painting with infrared and X-rays, revealing that Mondriaan altered the composition many times and regularly scraped paint from the canvas.

Gilded branches rhyme with the museum’s yellow facade in the evening glow.

But let’s turn back to Berlage. Rationalism, which he introduced around 1900, was more of a movement than a full-fledged architectural style. Like other movements of that time, it stood in contrast to 19th-century Historicism, which sought to revive past architectural styles, such as Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque, or Neo-Renaissance, rather than offer something new. But while Expressionism and Art Nouveau embraced emotion, Rationalism was founded on the principle that all architectural tasks could be addressed rationally, without excessive decoration.

A minimalist brick pergola from the rear side of the museum.

After taking pictures of the gorgeous art museum, I decided to continue exploring the city after work the next day.

2. Tuesday: Torengarage (1929–1930)

When I first saw this building, I never imagined that such a creatively designed structure could serve such practical purposes. It’s actually the first stacked garage in the Netherlands—and it’s still in operation! Cars regularly go in and out of the side gate.

The garage during the evening rush hour.

The Netherlands wasn’t always as car-free as it is today. In the early 20th century, car traffic surged in popularity, leading to the demolition of many old houses to accommodate the growing number of vehicles on the roads. The demand for city parking, especially in the center of The Hague, also rose accordingly.

You can see the skeleton of the building through its large ribbon windows.

Jan Greve designed the tower garage in the Business Expressionism style. The building was based on a concrete skeleton on the base of an irregular ellipse and had five sloping floors that could accommodate up to 400 cars. It initially housed a car showroom and workshops, including the first brake test bench in the country.

The modern-day entrance to the building is hidden behind the attached cafe.

It was really challenging to take pictures of this bustling spot. With people, bicycles, and cars constantly in motion in front of the garage, I had only fleeting moments to snap clean photos.

A decorative lantern on the front facade marks the garage’s initial entrance; nowadays, it is moved to the side of the building.

3. Wednesday: De Bijenkorf (1924–1926)

Locals have mixed feelings about this posh and pricey shopping center, often unaware of its architectural value. However, it stands as a true masterpiece of Expressionism right in the heart of The Hague.

The enduring characteristic of this place is the constant flow of people.

I had no luck capturing a photo without people around: when the building is illuminated in the evening, it’s a prime time for pedestrians and cyclists, and when it’s quieter, the lighting is bad for photos.

The Hague Bijenkorf, designed by Piet Kramer, was the second location of this department store, following the original one situated in the prime location on Dam Square in Amsterdam. While city authorities welcomed the arrival of the Bijenkorf, many feared it would threaten small local shops as a one-stop destination for all goods.

The building’s faceted windows subtly allude to the meaning of De Bijenkorf’s name, which translates to “Beehive” in Dutch.

This building was Piet Kramer’s most notable architectural work outside Amsterdam. He commissioned multiple artists to embellish the store with stained-glass windows and sculptures; even the architect’s first wife, Johanna, designed the floor covering here. Unfortunately, not much of the original decoration survived during renovations.

There is a unique stained glass artwork on each floor of the store.

I like to explore cities from a street-level perspective, so initially, I didn’t realize that De Bijenkorf was also worth exploring from the inside. However, after stumbling upon a photo of one of its exquisite stained glass artworks on Instagram, I was intrigued and decided to step inside for a closer look.

An incredible stained glass composition beautifully complements the wooden patterns.

I visited De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam, and in terms of creativity, it doesn’t even come close to the one in The Hague. Despite not being into fancy shopping, I found real inspiration in this place.

The best-preserved part of De Bijenkorf’s interior is its central staircase.

Like historical architecture? Then follow my Instagram with architecture photos every day — from 🏰 Gothic to 🏢 Modernism.

4. Thursday: Nirwana Flats (1926–1929)

Unlike the previous buildings, which were only 5–10 minutes from my office, it took me around 25 minutes of brisk walking to reach this place. My determination to come on time and catch the “blue hour,” perfect for photos, also helped keep me warm on that windy and humid day.

The tranquil Nirvana house amidst the rush hour.

The snow-white Nirwana apartment block stands prominently on the corner, emphasizing its avant-garde character and strikingly contrasting the surrounding brick houses. It overlooks the Haagse Bos forest and is named after the highest state of holiness that a person can achieve in Buddhism, stripped of all desires.

Only the road separates the house from the dense forest on the left.

It was designed by Jan Duiker and Jan Gerko Wiebenga in the New Objectivity (or New Pragmatism) style, which emerged in the 1920s as an opposition to emotional and intricate Expressionism. This architectural approach prioritized functionality and livability, focusing on practicality rather than ornate design.

The minimalism of the building is disturbed by various things its inhabitants store on the loggias and near the windows facing the street.

Even today, nearly a century later, this house retains a contemporary appearance. However, in the 1920s, it was considered an unprecedented architectural experiment. Back then, it was the tallest concrete building in the Netherlands. With walls no longer serving as primary weight-bearing elements, architects were able to install larger windows than usual. Interestingly, the building could have been twice as tall if not for the municipal council’s prohibition.

The main entrance has large letters “NIRVANA” above the door.

The Nirwana block was promoted by its architects as the future of housing: lightweight, comfortable, affordable, and directed upward, thus occupying less space. But as is often the case with experimental buildings, they tend to be more aesthetically pleasing than actually comfortable. The walls, only 15 centimeters thick, were prone to cracks, exposing the internal steel framework to rusting. The building underwent renovations in the 1990s and 2000s, including the installation of double-glazed windows to mitigate street noise.

I wonder if anyone actually uses these micro-balconies to smoke a cigarette or savor an espresso.

5. Friday: Papaverhof (1919–1921)

On Friday, I finished work a bit earlier and had the chance to take my time getting to this place, the most remote one in this series. The Papaverhof housing estate is a complex of 68 single-family homes and 60 apartments arranged circularly with a courtyard park in the middle.

One of Papaverhof’s houses with the Bethlehem Church in the background.

The Papaverhof was planned as part of an ambitious development of the area between The Hague and Loosduinen. The project aimed to create an extensive garden district of a thousand middle-class homes.

As a commissioner, Hendrik Berlage advised against organizing a design contest and recommended directly involving some promising young architects. However, the invited individuals proposed a plan that completely neglected essential fixed objects like a road to the hospital. As a result, the whole process halted.

The district developers began searching for a new, local architect, ultimately selecting Jan Wils. Wils had recently published an article about the garden city in a reputable magazine, which made him a good fit for the project. He was tasked with making houses affordable, arranging them as compactly as possible, and leaving ample space for greenery.

Jan Wils’ plan for the estate included single-family houses forming a full ring, with apartment blocks partially enclosing them to the east and north.

If you thought hiring an architect was the only obstacle to realizing this project, there was another issue. Initially, the complex was built from concrete, but the walls exposed numerous cracks and holes after the first casts were removed. The construction authorities ordered everything to be demolished and restarted using a traditional material: brick. Wils’ agency almost went bankrupt, but finishing the work despite the problems also meant a career breakthrough for him.

Evening calmness near the Papaverhof estate.

I was captivated by the interplay of shapes and colors at Papaverhof: black and white, blue and yellow. Initially, I couldn’t pinpoint what it reminded me of, but everything clicked into place upon learning about the Cubist influences. Cubism — not only an art style associated with Picasso but also an architectural trend — aimed to depict objects from multiple perspectives simultaneously by deconstructing them into pieces and reassembling them into new forms. You can notice this in Papaverhof’s chimneys, entrances, and window proportions.

A sorbus tree in one of the street-facing yards.

Another influence caught my eye here. Just look at these alternating black and white squares on the fence. The rhythmic repetition brings to mind Mondriaan’s iconic style, where simple colors and straight lines come together to evoke a sense of movement.

Large ground-floor windows illuminate the shrubs.

Bonus: Berlage Kiosk (1924–1925)

After visiting the Papaverhof on Friday, I still felt incompleteness, as if something was missing. And then, I found it! A tiny structure from the interwar period that would put a full stop to this overview.

The kiosk is the only permanent structure on Buitenhof Square.

This kiosk was designed by Hendrik Berlage and Piet Zwart in the Cubist-Expressionist style. Its plan is based on two overlapping octagons, one smaller and one larger. Yet, what truly sets it apart is the exquisite turret with beveled corners and glass blocks that softly illuminate at night.

Originally, this kiosk served as a place where you could buy flowers and newspapers, but now it functions as a beverage sales point. Despite its architectural value, people pass by this kiosk thousands of times without giving it a second thought.

An evening view of the kiosk, with a tram passing by in the background.

The Netherlands, much like my homeland, Ukraine, was among the first to witness the brutality of Russian aggression. In 2014, Russian forces without insignia invaded Eastern Ukraine and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, resulting in the deaths of 283 passengers and 15 crew members, including 193 Dutch citizens.

Russian terrorists pose near the plane wreckage. At the time, they were arrogantly confident that they would shift the blame to Ukraine (Photo: Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)

In 2023, the Netherlands was among the first to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to bolster our defense against the Russian imperial war and missiles purposely targeting civilians. Hartelijk dank, Nederland! Samen zullen we dit kwaad overwinnen. One day, Russian war criminals will face the punishment they deserve in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.



Slava Shestopalov 🇺🇦
5 a.m. Magazine

Design leader and somewhat of a travel blogger. Author of “Design Bridges” and “5 a.m. Magazine” ·