H.P. BERLAGE, 1884-1903, Beursplein/Damrak 267, Amsterdam
Koopmansbeurs / Exchange ( H.P. Berlage )
© 2006 Jan Derwig
The building that was to replace Zocher's old Exchange of 1845 has a long history. Already at the end of the 1870s many architects, commissioned or not, were submitting plans for it at various locations. In 1884 a competition attracted 199 entries, reduced for a new design to five selected teams, one of which included Berlage. It dragged on through problems of copyright and sordid disputes about style. In 1896, largely due to Alderman Treub's tenacity, Berlage was permitted to draw up a new design (without the facades) and in 1898 received the official commission for the new Exchange. Its floor plan arrangement, specified by functional demands, had been largely mapped out beforehand. The design is based on a system of geometrical proportions. Elevations use the so-called 'Egyptian' triangle (the ratio 5:8); floor plans follow a working module of 3.8 m. Most impressive is the great sense of unity informing the exterior. The different functions (offices, entrances, the three large halls for commodities, grain and stock) are subordinate to the totality of its frontage. The elongated facade on Damrak is one continuous plane lined with windows and enlivened by vertical elements. The east side ranges the large rectangular halls along the oblique building line. This divergence Berlage emphasizes in many ways, including a reduction in height and a double facade. The two short sides are more conglomerations of individual masses. On the south side the tower is asymmetrical in relation to the position of the main entrance. The north facade is highly fragmentary with a large gap in its wall due to the grain exchange being placed far back and enclosed by just a low gallery. The large halls are spanned by arched steel trusses left visible. Ornament is treated in terms of the composition as a whole and as a rule expresses a function; stone consoles, keystones and lintels, door and window hardware and drainpipes.
Berlage and the Amsterdam Exchange have become synonymous with the emergence of modern architecture in the Netherlands. Built at the turn of the century, the work forms a transition from 'neo' styles and Art Nouveau to objectivity, from fantasy and romanticism to rationalism, serving as a model as much for the Amsterdam School as for the Moderns. In 1959 plans to rebuild or even demolish it were greeted with unanimous protest from the Dutch architectural world. From 1984 on, exchange activities have shifted gradually to new buildings. Berlage's magnum opus is now given over to cultural events; the main hall (the commodity exchange) now houses exhibitions and major events, the two small spaces function as a concerthall (the stock exchange) and concert cum rehearsal hall (the grain exchange), the offices are let to firms in the cultural sectors and the main entrance has been recast as a 'grand café'. Restoration of the Exchange was entrusted to Pieter Zaanen, an architect specializing in theatre building; the new accretions contrast with and, where possible, stand clear of the existing building. A controversial aspect is the AGA-zaal or Glass Music Hall, a stabilized glass box ensuring maximum transparency and neutrality in the interests of the original building.