A.E. VAN EYCK, 1955-1960, IJsbaanpad 3, Amsterdam
Burgerweeshuis Amsterdam / Orphanage Amsterdam ( A.E. van Eyck )
© Jan Derwig

Aldo van Eyck

Aldo van Eyck

Special accommodation

Office Building Tripolis

Not long after the publication of 'Het verhaal van een andere gedachte' ('The Story of Another Idea') the so-called Forum group, besides declaring their intentions in writing, were able to offer a three-dimensional manifesto: the Burgerweeshuis (Orphanage) in Amsterdam. The ideas of its designer, Aldo van Eyck, are summarized briefly as follows:
- the complexity of life in our society must not be allowed to disintegrate into rational analyses and orders, but should be expressed by architect and urban designer alike as a spatial and social whole;
- the positivistic view of man has been replaced by an idealistic vision; man has always had the same basic needs and intuitions no matter what period or culture;
- the architect must resist the idea of a technocracy, a total subordination to bureaucracy and science and the separation of architecture and urban design.
A principal thread running through Van Eyck's work is 'unity in diversity, diversity in unity'. Seemingly discordant elements are reconciled in so-called 'twin phenomena' such as open/closed, unity/diversity, simplicity/complexity, inside/outside, individual/collective and centralized/decentralized. In the Burgerweeshuis all elements combine in a broad, complex pattern, 'a tiny city'. To render this pattern recognizable and homogeneous all these elements are subjected to one all-encompassing principle. Four round columns are spanned by four concrete lintels in a square and capped by a concrete dome. A configuration of a number of these spaces forms together with a larger square space one children's zone, marked by a larger dome. The building has eight of these zones, each housing a different age group. The older groups (aged 10-20 years) have a bedroom level and an open 'square' on the block's perimeter; the younger groups (up to 10 years) have an enclosed roofless square or 'patio'. All told, the building was home, temporary or permanent, to some 125 children.
Inside, many surprising effects have been achieved with differences in level, sunken or raised circular sections, and diagonal lines of attention and orientation of activities. The zones are interlinked by a 'binnenstraat' (interior street) with the same rough-textured materials as the exterior and lit by 'street-lights'. Besides these linked zones the building contains several larger halls for parties, recreation and sports, a central kitchen and washing department, a sanatorium, an administrative section and several staff dwellings. The latter are on an upper level and present an elongated, natural shelter for the entrance zone.
The building's interior has been altered a number of times to keep up with changing socio-educational trends; 'It's been through hell' (Van Eyck). At the close of 1986 this unremitting mutilation reached a head with plans to demolish half of the building. A massive international campaign spearheaded by Herman Hertzberger succeeded in preserving the Orphanage. After briefly hosting the Berlage Institute it is now a mixed-use building for small enterprises.