Just a few pictures of a beautiful church

Visiting church often is very inspiring for me, not only for the building but even more for the beautiful services, I mainly love to attend Vespers and Evensongs. But sometimes another view can give a whole new inspiring feeling. Sometimes a building also can be very inspiring. Beneath I want to share some unusual pictures of the church I often visit, Domkerk in Utrecht, the Netherlands.


In the pictures above you can see the construction of the roof above the chancel, the keystone of the chancel which you can see from inside the church with Jesus and Mary and looking down the chancel with the ambulatory and chapels behind it. As an architect once said: God is in the detail.

What certainly is not seen often is the beautiful weather vane, which is more then 110 meters above ground level. and the Cloister-Garth which is with the church, and some moments of this Garth in use.




Drager van de Dom

Domdrager Share button

Wordt ook Drager van de Dom!! De Domkerk in Utrecht moet gerestaureerd worden en zoekt via crowdfunding de laatste 100.000 euro van 1.6 miljoen euro totaal. Het is een prachtige kerk waar je voor verschillende doeleinden kunt komen en zo ongeveer de hele week naar binnen kunt. Zelf bezoek ik vaak de vespers en ook af en toe een gewone dienst. Aarzel niet en klik hier en doe ook mee met de crowdfunding

Recently I became one of the so called bearers (drager) of the Domchurch in Utrecht. It is a beautiful medieval church I often visit to go to vespers or regular services. The church needs renovation and started a crowdfunding to find the last 100.000 euro’s from a grand total of ca 1.600.000euro’s. click here for crowdfunding site


Wordt ook Drager van de Dom!! De Domkerk in Utrecht. en oja, als je wilt kun je ook nog cadeautje uitzoeken als je geeft 😉


I am bearer of the dom

Sustainability and profitable business


These days sustainability is a hot item. But what is it exactly, can we measure it? Lots of people talk about sustainability, they all know something about it, mostly about low energy use and renewable energy, but there is much more to it.

In my view sustainability is not a target, but a tool to reach a target. I think owning a firm you will look for making profit, how will the firm develop itself over the next few years and over the next generation, but also how can processes be improved, smaller costs, lower impact. Minimalising waste, use less energy or green energy, reduce transport costs, waste and pollution by using local products, all perfect exemples of how your business can be improved and become more profitable.

One of the best descriptions/defenitions for the term sustainable development still is the one given by the Bruntland Commission of the UN: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This includes someway everything, from corporate social responsibility to water, waste and energy use, from fairtrade and biologic to education.

There is a wide range of systems and concepts to measure and support this, such as Fairtrade, Cradle 2 Cradle, Organic, Greencalc, life cycle analysis(LCA), BREEAM, planetree, and so on. Here I would like to talk (shortly) about BREEAM, because unlike the other systems which are often focused on just one thing ( greencalc-energy, LCA- materials, etc) BREEAM has a wide range of focus points.

Looking at BREEAM a wide range on subjects/tools is offered to get to a more profitable business. BREEAM, short for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology is an original British method to measure sustainability, now used in over 60 countries. BREEAM includes 9 sustainability categories: 1. Management; 2. Energy; 3. Health & wellbeing; 4. Transport; 5. Water; 6. Materials; 7. Waste; 8. Land use and ecology; and 9. Pollution. With these categories the method tries to encompass the whole life cycle of buildings from planning to in-use and refurbishment. for each of this categories there is a number of things you can get creditpoints for. BREEAM scores following the next table:

stars score % creditpoints
* pass >30%
** good >45%
*** very good >55%
**** excellent >70%
***** outstanding >85%


Inhabit the world, vernacular architecture. 

The earth is the serving bearer, flourishing and prosperous, florid and fruitful. Endless wide fields of stone and water, giving place for growth to plants, animals and humans. Human beings living on the earth, brought to peace, building and cultivating the earth. Us mortals, we inhabit the world, we dwell and we live on the earth.  How we live in or inhabit the world goes back till before ancient times. So the story tells, after tohu vavohu man lived in paradise, in harmony with nature.

After the first agricultural revolution people had enough food to stay in one place for a longer time, long enough to build them a shelter, a home. These were simple huts from natural materials such as adobe, clay, stone, straw, wood, animal skin or a mixture of those. This is where vernacular architecture started, as shelter for wild animals and weather conditions around a fireplace for cooking and warmth.  Having enough food for a group of people, they got time to do other things than taking care of food. Trading, writing, money and cities developed, civilisation started. This civilisation started in several places at about the same time: in Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt and with the Maya culture in Meso-America.

Cities grew in a natural way (along a river, around a holy place or temple) and there were actually two types of people: those who lived in or around a city/village and those who travelled around (nomads, traders, etc). This was the situation till right before the industrial revolution, when trains, cars and airplanes made traveling available for everyone.

Even before the industrial revolution there is a strong call for authenticity. Society or civilisation should be less appearences, show, extravagance and more simple, honest, real and transparent. One who had a large influence on that movement was Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), who plead for going back to nature. (In French: retour à la nature). This in basic romantic thought had a large influence, not only on his contemporain (baroque) architecture, but also on modern architecture of the 20th and 21st century.


As Frank Lloyd Wright puts it (1910): the true base of every study about architecture taken seriously still is the aboriginal, humble building, which is for architecture what folksongs are for music, fabels and fairy tales for literature. Lots of aboriginal architecture is earthly and natural. Their functions mostly refer to the inner life of humankind, true and honesty, intimate and connected to the context.

So in order to go back to the original idea of living in nature with architecture as shelter one might consider going forwards to an architecture which uses local and natural building materials and techniques, where the plan is functional (without need to look for symetry or other forced modes of esthetics)  and ornaments not part of the structure are left out, still creating a unity in form and enclosed space.  Contemporain architects working with vernacular architecture are for example Glenn Murcutt (Australia, picture below) or gunnar Daan (The Netherlands, picture above).

glenn murcutt

Wharfs of Utrecht (Netherlands)

The story of the wharfs in Utrecht starts with the digging of the canals, around the year 1100 AD. The ground excavated was used to raise the sides of the canal, to reduce the chance of flooding. When the city’s system of locks was finished in 1275 the water level was constant, enabling the creation of permanently dry cellars and new quays at water level, hence the typical wharfs (Dutch: werven) below street level. The quays were (and are still) at the same level as the cellars of the canal houses. Merchands who stored their belongings on the quays or wharfs started digging a tunnel from the wharf to their houses underneath the roads. The wharfcellars so grew as an initiative of inhabitants of the city to create storage for their goods. Slowly but surely all these cellars were locked with a fence or with a wall and door, how we get to the wharfs we see today. This process of building was finished around the year 1500 when al wharfs in the city Utrecht, along the ca 4 km long canal system, had their own cellars on both sides of the canals. Since this was an initiative of local owners, every cellar is unique, not one the same.

     wharfs end 19th century

At the end of the 19th century, when transport over land became overhand more important, the wharfs felt in disuse, lost their function. With this they got into decline. Right after WWII society urged for refurbishment of the quays. This was very difficult because lots of owners were involved with different interests. The local authority decided to buy all wharfs and quay walls, not the cellars behind it. In 1949 project was started to refurbish the wharfs and quay walls. This project was finished in 1979 with the removal of all kinds of fences that had separated the different sections of different owners.

The image of the city changed dramatically with that intervention. For the first time in all those centuries a public street along the canal at water level was created. This meant that people could enter the wharfs and use them as public space. With the refurbishment of the wharfs and quay walls the job was not finished. Also the wharf cellars needed refurbishment. to resolve this problem, the local authority made an alliance with the owners in 1993. A start was made to the refurbishment and making the cellars waterproof. In the following nine years almost all of the about 700 cellars were refurbished!

  wharf cellar inside

At this very moment the cellars serve as space for restaurants, musea, brewers, and other kinds of public spaces (in the picture a flex office).

participation in architecture

What is participation? Looking at what the government of the Netherlands means with it (they call it ‘participatie-samenleving’, lit. participation society) it means doing it yourself. Everyone has to take his/her own responsibility, and the government does nothing. Mainly in care for sick and elderly people, social services, unemployed people – the weakest links in society – this leads to a non structured, chaotic situation.

In architecture participation has to do with different levels of influence people want to, or can, have at the look on the inside and outside of buildings, what leads to a slight line between chaos and structure. It comes with words as adaptable, flexible, integration, layers, bearing construction and loose elements, etc. How to turn stakeholders into shareholders. But actually, between the lines, people want to identify themselves in their surroundings, what was lost in modernity.

Constant Nieuwenhuys-new babylon

Participation becomes an issue in architecture in the 1950’s, when modernism gets old fashioned. Living, experiencing and seeing becomes more important than the pure functional and pragmatic modernism.  The lost interaction between human and his surroundings, a consequence of modern housing and urban planning, must been restored. For example Constant (Situationist International, avant garde) made the project New Babylon, where he envisioned a “world wide city for the future”, where land is owned collectively, work is fully automated and the need to work replaced with a nomadic life of creative play. As Constant puts it himself:

“The project of New Babylon only intends to give the minimum conditions for a behavior that must remain as free as possible. Any restriction of the freedom of movement, any limitation with regard to the creation of mood and atmosphere, has to be avoided. Everything has to remain possible, all is to happen, the environment has to be created by the activity of life, and not inversely.”

Building on this statement,  in the 1960’s architects mentioned  the separation of ‘support’ or base building from ‘infill’ or interior fit-out in residential construction and design. With this they want to give inhabitants a meaningful participation role in the design process, making it possible to let people give their own identity to their house to make it feel like home.

Later on in time new concepts like IFD (industrial, flexible and demountable) modular building, division from fixed, semi fixed and detached elements and lately I read about a new concept of creating a generic space with the fixed elements, a sort of fixed frame which gives the user the freedom to fill in all other elements the way he wants to.

But, looking beyond this beautiful concepts, people are not waiting for moving their kitchen a few inches, or to place a wall every 30 cm. people want to make their houses into homes, give it their identity so they feel at home, feeling able to explain to someone how to reach their home. That last thing is sometimes not very easy. Living in the Netherlands some city’s have endless districts with all the same houses, no shops libraries or whatsoever. To create more identity you need to have some specials like shops, library’s, schools and other buildings to prevail in a redundant surrounding. It also helps when a designer puts more meaning in the design.



some good books about architecture

Books about architecture there are a lot. The titles I want to recommend are not the usual books with pictures, they have their own purpose, but some theoretical books which give a background on why, what and how questions. Why do architects design the way they do, what means modernism , why is ornamentation such a big issue, how does politics or the condition of society influence architecture and so on and so on.

The titles are listed below in a random order. In my other articles (the ones already written and the ones to come) on architecture I hope to make more sense of them and give a more coherent view on architecture. If this was a scientific blog I would already have listed some of this books as source for my earlier posts on architecture.

– Architecture and modernity, a critique // Hilde Heynen
The book discusses the relationship between modernity, dwelling, and architecture, and goes into what modernity is, how it can be interpreted. This is discussed within the fields of philosophy, sociology, and cultural theory.

– On thinking, dwelling and housing // Martin Heidegger
Gives a different view about what building and living actually is or can be. How you can look at a thing, a work, at housing, building and dwelling. //philosophy 

– Meaning of the built environment // Amos Rapoport
A good book about meanings in architecture, linked to flexibility and vernacular architecture, symbols in architecture. Gives really good insight in how meaning and tradition were, are and in my humble opinion should be embedded or at least not be forgotten in contemporary architecture. The book is concerned with the meanings which buildings, their contents, and their inhabitants convey, and the conclusions which can be drawn therefrom for procedures of architectural design to satisfy the people who will ultimately live in these buildings.

– Image of the city // Kevin Lynch
A for me very important work about perception of the built environment. This work is often used to say something useful about image quality of a city, neighborhood, street and building in its context. How people experience and remember a city, paths, edges, nodes, districts and landmarks.

mental map of LA

– Studies in tectonic culture // Kenneth Frampton
A must read book about evolution of architecture, a very different approach, about the poetry of structure and construction.

– A history of building types // Nikolaus Pevsner
A standard on typology of buildings, with lots of 19th century examples of houses, libraries, hospitals, police stations,  etc.

– Language of post modern architecture // Charles Jencks
The book is about the paradigm shift from modern to postmodern architecture. Modern architecture concentrates on univalent forms such as right angles and square buildings often resembling office buildings. However, postmodern architecture focuses on forms derived from the mind, body, city context, and nature.

– De Architectura libri decem // Vitruvius
Ten books about principal views on architecture, city planning and more, written about 30 years BC, and still a standard.

– Collage city // Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter
More of the same Kevin Lynch is also writing about: human perception of the built environment.

– Complexity and contradiction in architecture // Robert Venturi
this book is a gentle manifesto for a nonstraightforward architecture, a complaint against modern architecture in favour of post modern architecture

 Well, I could go on for a while, there are more interesting books to read, but the ten books above make a nice start!

What is beauty?

What is beauty? can we say something more than only taste on image quality? That is what this story on architecture is about.

Once I was asked (the office I worked for at the time) to make an oversight on what the special architectural/image quality was in a specific neighborhood in Amsterdam. It would be used by the city council to determine what the image quality of the neighborhood is, so they can make local legislation on how to build. With it they inform citizens how to build or make an extension to their house, what color to paint it, etc.

What I did is describing the architecture, ensemble quality, how the houses are made in a certain style and what is appropriate for that style. Look how houses form a neighborhood, how a street is ended, how cars, bicycles and walking people find there way, how parking is solved and how these thing influence the image of the street.

Also adding to the quality of a neighborhood, and with that to the buildings, is the differentiation of buildings. Some shops and for example a library or a school add to the quality. I remember looking around in a city with a friend, and strange enough we saw that the quality of the pavement says something about the quality of the buildings along that road. In the beginning you think it doesn’t matter, and we didn’t realize it till we walked into another neighborhood and we saw the difference.

Having done this, I found that talking about the beauty of a building was not about taste, but about the condition of the building in its context. How the concept of the building fits the architectural style, how it relates to the people in the street and to the users or inhabitants of the building. What I think is important to make beautiful architecture is give a building meaning, embed it in the context and have an eye for detail, structure and texture. I like duality, ambiguity, hiding and revealing.

Quality of image, beauty of architecture is for me not only the beauty of the building, how it is designed on a drawing, but also how the surroundings fit the concept, are the surroundings also designed, does the building fits the place and has meaning (which can change in time). On the level of the building itself one can look for the detail, the material use, structure of the material, colors of the different materials fitting together, pure or eclectic in its style.


alternative history of architecture

Completely different from the short version of building/architecture I wrote earlier, here an alternative history, about how architecture is interpreted from early on till nowadays, architecture as ‘art’ of building.

Around 30-25 BC, Vitruvius wrote that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature. As birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements. The architect should not only be aware of history, but also of the physical rules governing materials.  This Vitruvian trinity not only is about aesthetics, but rather elevates building into architecture. The transformation of a primitive hut into a temple reveals a historical move from undefined concepts to definite rules of symmetry.

When perfecting this art of building, the Greeks invented the architectural orders which gave them a sense of proportion, culminating in understanding the proportions of the greatest work of art: the human body, at its top in the renaissance (i.a. Leonardo da Vinci). Later on, Alberti suggests that the whole matter of building is composed of lineaments (design, aesthetics) and structure. This lineaments looks a lot like what Semper later calls ‘clothing’

Laugier describes (in 1753) building the primitive hut as follows:

some fallen branches in the forest are the right material for this purpose; he chooses four of the strongest, raises them  upright and arranges them in a square. Across their top he lays four other branches. On these he hoists from two sides yet another row of branches which, inclining towards each other, meet at their highest point. He then covers this kind of roof with leaves, so closely packed that neither sun nor rain can penetrate. Thus man is housed.

In this we see a division between the structure and the enclosure. This evolves in 1851 in Gottfried Semper’s writings in four elements in a house: first the hearth of the house, the fireplace, the symbolic middle of the house, where everyone can feel at ease and at home; second element is the roof/framework, third element is the enclosure, the facade, lightweight enclosing membrane, the clothing and the fourth element is the mound/earthwork, the site and foundation. The validity of this is borne out by vernacular building throughout the world, even if some of the elements once in a while go together.

Building, constructing is the core of architecture. Building gives the means and sets the frames for the design. Style is the coincidence of a structure with the conditions of its origins. Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright follow the analogy’s of Semper talking about texture of tiles, comparing it with old oriental rugs. Unlike Adolf Loos, Wright attempted to derive an authentic ornament from the process of fabrication.

Around the beginning of the  twentieth century Loos writes that modernity is a breach with tradition, because humans do not any longer have the same relationship with his surroundings as the farmer or craftsman. Therefore he breaks with the ornament and initiates the modern style, without ornaments.

During the first modern era, we see less ornaments, but still feeling for the frame, the skin and the foundations of buildings. Mies van de Rohe, Louis Kahn, Jørn Utzon, Carlo Scarpa, they all had their way of creating a balance between showing and hiding the construction, showing the skin and making a transparent skin, showing the joint and hiding the joint.  (tectonics and stereotomics)

More recently, we see the four points of Semper, and the thin line between building and ‘art’ of building in the works of Alvar Aalto, Santiago Calatrava, Herzog and De Meuron, Tadao Ando, etc, etc.


how did we get where we are??

Well, here is part 2 on architecture, about history and how cities became as redundant as they are at the moment. architecture going from a tradition to modern, to post modern, to abstract/sensitive and to where we are now!

Building as we know it started in ancient history,  after the first agricultural revolution round approximately 10.000 BC, in the Levant (Jericho), Anatolia (Çatal Hüyük) and Mesopotamia (Nineveh, Babylon).  In these days there was a transition of many human cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, what lead to the first villages and towns.

From there building evaluated through the Egyptian architecture (3000 BC – 1000 BC) (in america Maya culture) to the architecture of the classical ancient history, the Greeks and the Romans (1000 BC – 600 AD), the architecture of the middle ages and renaissance (600 AD – 1600 AD) and the baroque architecture (1600 AD – 1700 AD). After the baroque, we see a revival of the classic architecture. Building has become a tradition and usage.

From the end of the 18th century, a lot of changes in society were made by the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen,  writing the first constitution, and in the 19th century the industrial revolution began. Changes became faster than tradition could bear.

Around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents with new social demands and technological possibilities. Some did this in a way we now call Jugendstil/Art Nouveau, others did this in the modern movement.

And that is where it becomes even more interesting! Tradition is left behind, a decent housing should be in reach for everybody (not only the rich), hygiene is important: everybody deserves a shower. This resulted (in the Netherlands) in building legislation,  standardization and industrialization in building, programs for housing for the millions and urban planning.

In architecture there was in the same period a strong call to leave the ‘neo’ styles and come to a new contemporary style. No longer a fancy facade, no more ornaments and no more coziness. More pureness, what you see is what you get. Form follows function and less is more becomes the motto. This results in a wide range of modern architecture by Mies vd Rohe, Peter Behrens, Berlage, Duiker and many others.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s a reaction comes to this style, a call for more meaning, smaller scale, more detailed architecture. It is what we call post-modernism. the motto changes from less is more to less is bore. do not make a shed or a decorated shed, build a duck. building is emotion, not only knowledge. In the 1980’s and 1990’s this results in a very abstract architecture style  and a more romantic and emotional style.

And that brings us where we are now, from my point of view, in the contemporary style of the beginning of third millennium where ratio and emotion, abstract and romantic architecture come together.