The Life and Work of Hendrik Petrus Berlage

Amsterdam Experiences
Jun 3 · 5 min read
The Beurs van Berlage — His masterpiece

Modern Dutch architecture has one very iconic hero: Hendrik Petrus Berlage. Berlage was a prominent architect that introduced modernism and ‘practical aesthetics’ into Dutch architecture. His distinct simplistic style was focused on the purpose of bringing the community together.

I should be thanking Berlage big time, as my house is designed by him. I really love Berlage’s use of open spaces, as I get to have a really spacious living room. But enough about me and my big house, let’s find out more about Berlage and his work.

Berlage and His Style

Berlage’s belief was that society had lost its spiritual values that served as the glue of communities. Because of this, he strived to bring these values back by incorporating elements from Classical Greek and Gothic European in his designs. His work is a stylistic mishmash of these two eras for the first part of his career.

When designing the first Amsterdam Commodities Exchange, Berlage was inspired by the Neo-Romanesque brickwork architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson and combined such elements with structures of iron like those seen in the Castle of the Three Geckos of Domènech I Montaner.

But after a trip to the U.S. in 1911, Berlage’s architecture had taken a shift towards the organic style and principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. Not only did he propagate this type of architecture in the Netherlands, but he also spread Wright’s ideologies through Germany.

Probably Berlage’s most significant contribution to Dutch architecture is that he served as the link between the Traditionalists and the Modernists. He inspired the architects of the 1920s, including the Amsterdam School, De Stijl, the Traditionalists the New Objectivists. Without a doubt, he rightfully earned his title as the “Father of Modern Architecture” in the Netherlands.

Fun Fact: As gratitude for his stellar contribution in Dutch architecture, there is a crater on Moon named after him. For the time being, there is no tour that takes you to the Berlage lunar crater (although that would be pretty cool), but there are some places here on Earth that you can visit.

Berlage’s Legacy in Amsterdam

The most famous building designed by Berlage is ‘The Beurs van Berlage’, which secured his position as a leading figure in Dutch architecture. It was built between 1898 and 1903, and it initially served as a headquarter for the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

Inside of the Beurs van Berlage

However, Berlage was an ardent socialist and believed that the stock exchange would not last for long. Therefore, he decided to take a creative approach by designing the new stock exchange building in such a way that the building could later be used as a grand community house — and his idea worked in the long run. Today, the Beurs is no longer the city’s stock exchange, the building being now used as an exhibition and concert hall.

Berlage viewed the building as a representation of the democratic society: ‘insignificant as an individual, but a power as a mass‘.

By affirming his practical designs using Romanesque brickwork, inspired by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, he created the building with its simple yet striking façade in the center of the city.

The Beurs was erected on a newly created piece of land which was made by covering the oldest harbor basin located in the center of Amsterdam.

The architectural aesthetics of Beurs are based on simplicity and soberness. The building stood out in its time for not copying the gothic or renaissance style featured in Amsterdam’s other important city buildings. While many Amsterdammers were not thrilled with it, the structure established its new and unique style. Now it’s one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. Beurs van Berlage was also where the civil ceremony of the wedding of King Willem-Alexander, and Máxima Zorreguieta was held on 2 February 2002.

We can observe that there is only one decoration, the big clock from the high tower. As the Anne Frank & Jewish History Tour walks through the center of Amsterdam, we will pass this magnificent clock. The tour will also allow people to see the three sculpture figures that surround the building. Each statue features an influential figure in Dutch history, and you will get to hear more information about them from our knowledgeable guide.

Beurs van Berlage also has a café located on the Beursplein side, a cultural square in the center of Amsterdam, that you might want to check out.

The inside of the building is just as exquisite as the outside. Apart from the well-preserved interiors, you can see the main hall initially used as a commodity trading floor, and its carefully crafted decorations. Light floods the room through the double glass panes built in the ceiling. Other organic elements, such as glazed bricks, stone, wood, and iron, are aesthetically combined. In 1999, the Union Internationale des Architectes placed the Beurs van Berlage on the list of the top 1,000 most important buildings of the twentieth century.

Hendrikus Petrus Berlage (1856–1934)

Amsterdam‘s South Side

Hendrik Petrus Berlage can also be credited for designing the south side of Amsterdam. The Plan Zuid (“South Plan”) was an urban development plan of Amsterdam South (undertaken by the architect).

Berlage was in charge of creating the urban layout (1915) and, together with the architects of the Amsterdam School, designed the city’s plan.

The plan featured straight narrow streets and long blocks intersected by several broad axes; after it was approved, constructions began in 1917.

Between 1917 and 1925, The New South district was built based on the style of the Amsterdam School. The Stadium District, the Apollo, and the Rivers District are the most notable buildings in this side of Amsterdam; other parts of the city are derived from Plan Zuid.

While the buildings he created will represent great feats in the Dutch architecture, Berlage’s work left a lasting impact by introducing a new style to the Amsterdam School and, of course, by giving me a huge living room.

Plan Zuid — The Model Berlage developed for Amsterdam’s South Side
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