Born 1905, the Grand Duke of Weimer

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Born on 3rd April 1863 in
Antwerp, Belgium, Henry Van De Velde was an architect and designer. He was an
influential figure in the field of Art Nouveau in Belgium, along with Victor
Horta and Paul Hankar. The majority of his career took place in Germany and he
influenced German architecture and design of the early 20th century.
(Architectuul 2011) (Costas 2008)(The Editors of Encyclopdia 2017)

began his career, studying painting under the supervision of Charles Verlat at
the famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp and continued his studies in
Paris with Carolus Duran until 1895. Being such a younger painter he was
influenced the works of Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. The adopted the neo-impressionist
style after he was influenced by their work. He was also part of the
neo-impressionist society known as L`Art Independent. Since he was a great
follower of Seurat, he was interested in his notions of space and how it was
applied in architecture. During his studies, he was also part of the
Brussels-based artist group “Les XX”. Van de Velde becomes one of the first
artists to also be influence by the works of Vincent Van Gogh, after his
exposure to his work at an exhibition that hosted the artist group.(Architectuul 2011)(Costas 2008)

In the year 1892, Van de Velde started
devoting his time to arts of decoration and interior design rather than
painting. His first architectural work was his house Bloemenwerf in Uccle. This
work was architecture was mainly inspired by the British and American Arts and
Crafts. The interior design of the house was a combination of applied arts with
fine arts. (Costas 2008)

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The work of the Belgian architect and
designer Van De Velde were well-known in Germany, especially through
periodicals such as Innen-Dekoration. He received various commissions for
interior design in Berlin and around the early 1900’s, he designed Villa
Leuring in the Netherlands and Villa Esche in Chemnits. These two architectural
works were mainly based on Art Nouveau architectural style. Around the year
1905, the Grand Duke of Weimer instructed him to establish the Grand-Ducal
School of Arts and Crafts in Weimer. This school was the predecessor of the
Bauhaus, which replace the Arts and Crafts Movement under the new director
Walter Gropius. (Architectuul 2011)

He played a very important role in German
Werkbund, especially to improve and promote German design. We can establish
that Van De Velde called for the upholding of the individuality of artists. (Architectuul 2011)

On his return to Belgium, during World
War 1, he established La Cambre, in Brussels. He continued to practice his
profession, which was decreasing in popularity around 1910. During the decline
of this movement, he was mentoring he well-known Belgian architect, Victor
Bourgeois. (Architectuul 2011)

He settled in Switzerland and the
Netherland during the war were he designed the Kroller-Muller Museum in
Otterlo. Henry Van De Velde passed away on 2nd October 1957 in
Zurich Switzerland. (The Editors of Encyclopdia 2017)(Architectuul 2011)(Costas 2008)

Van De Velde: Works

Henry Van de Velde’s views have been
influenced by the aesthetics of Morris. It can be  assumed that the Belgian architect was highly
concerned about the fine arts’ future and wanted that the artistic creations
were available for the many rather than for the few.  (Smigielski, 2004)

Henry Van De Velde has worked on a variety
of projects.

“Bloemenwerf”, Van de Velde’s first private residence, in Ukkel,

Interior decoration of Siegfried Bing’s art Gallery “Maison de l’art
nouveau” in Paris, France

Interior of the Folkwang Museum in Hagen, Germany

1911 (extension): “Villa Esche” in Chemnitz, Germany

Extension and interior decoration of the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar, Germany

Clubhouse of the “Chemnitzer Lawn-Tennis-Club” in Chemnitz

“Hohenhof”, Mansion for Karl Ernst Osthaus in Hagen, Germany

“Haus Hohe Pappeln”, Van de Velde’s private residence in Weimar,

“Ernst-Abbe-Denkmal”, Memorial for Ernst Abbe in Jena (in
collaboration with the sculptors Max Klinger and Constantin Meunier)

Palace for Graf Dürckheim in Weimar, Germany

“Werkbund-Theater”, Theatre at the Deutsche Werkbund exhibition in
Cologne, Germany

“Villa Schulenburg” in Gera, Germany

Wohnhaus für den Fabrikanten Dr. Theo Koerner in Chemnitz, Germany

“La Nouvelle Maison”, Van de Velde’s private residence in Tervuren,

Home for the elderly of the ‘Minna und James Heinemann-Stiftung’ in Hannover,

Polyclinic and “Villa Landing” for Dr. Adriaan Martens in
“Astene” near Ghent, Belgium

Library of Ghent University with “Boekentoren” in Ghent, Belgium

“Technische School”, School building in Leuven, Belgium

Belgian Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition

“Station Blankenberge”, Train station in Blankenberge

Belgian Building for the 1939 New York World’s Fair

Van De Velde: Bloemenwerf House

House was Van De Velde’s first private residence. It is located in Ukkel,
Belgium. It was constructed between the 1895 and 1896. The architect Van De
Velde, designed the building as well as the interior and furnishings. One can
mention that this house was mainly inspired by the William Morris’s Red House
which is located in London and was built 35 years before the Bloemenwerf.  Bloemenwerf was built with masonry and timber
and is highly suitable for temperate environments. Henry Van De Velde presents
a very interesting synthesis of the characteristic currents of the time, while
bringing a new dimension to it. If one had to analysis further the building
itself, it can be observed that the there is a lack of ornamentation. This was
very unusual appearance because it removed the artistic visions of the time. (Artifice Inc. 2014)(Belgium 2008)

This residence is a 2 storey building,
with its facades built by of coated brick. It has a central plan with a
skylight. The building has a form of a polygon and is located at a steep
terrain. A complex roof structure is obtained by the inclined walls and the
multiple recesses that are present throughout the building. the façade is
divided in a way to obtain a broken a silhouette. The main façade is composed
of bays with curved lintels. These are equipped with wooden frames and folding
shutters. The garden layout was done by Van De Velde’s wife, who was his
closest associate. (Belgium 2008)

The interior part of the house is
composed of an entrance which leads to the ground floor. On the ground floor
one can appreciate a large central hall which is divided in two levels covered
by a skylight. The double level gives access to various rooms by the use of a
double stair case. The Belgian’s architect studio is located on the north side
of the building and is well lit by a large window. The interior doors are
partially glazed. Unity can be observed due to the low arch and pane glazing
which can also be observed in the outer windows.(Belgium 2008)

In general, it can be concluded that the
general appearance of the interior is intimate and of great sobriety. It looks
complete with its ostentatious character that can be observed in traditional
bourgeois dwellings of the time. The Bloemenwerf belongs to the art Nouveau but
it unique in every way since it was removed from what already characterised the
Brussels ornamental vocabulary. The house is both a private and a professional
residence. With this equal treatment the building can be considered to be
“democratic” in design especially in the modernist architecture of the 20th
century.It demonstrates an exchange of influence over a period of time in a
given cultural area, on the development of architecture or technology,
monumental arts, city planning or landscape creation. 

Van De Velde: Werkbund Theater Building

Theatre Building was built in 1914 in Cologne Germany by the architect Henry
Van de Velde. The structural system used was concrete framing and it is built
in a Modern and Art Nouveau Style. It was known as the “Artists Theatre” since
it hosted avant-garde Symbolists and Expressionist drama.

Werkbund theatre was constructed for the Werkbund Exhibition. Van de Velde
managed to create a theatrical space which was capable of accommodating a wide
variety of dramatic performances ranging from modest pageant plays to symbolist
and realist pieces which were more suited to the proscenium stage. The building
was built with massed wall and reinforced concrete frame, rendered over so as
to form a homogenous and plastic expression. The building had to serve as a
point of departure from the post-war work of Eric Mendelsohn. The brooding
telluric mass of the Werkbund theatre, reminiscent in many respects of Rudolf
Steiner’s anthropological form, was to mark that point in van de Velde’s career,
when the more animate ‘form force’ aesthetic of his early furniture gave way to
the much more solid, not to say ponderous expression. (Kenneth Frampton 1983)

The building represents the marriage of
convenience by the various German artists that contributed in the creation of
the theatre. Although there was a marriage of different modes, the building is
considered to be a seamless architectural whole. The three main protagonists
were the architect Henry Van De Velde, Ostaus and Obrist, all of which are
individualists that had an instrumental role in the building of this piece of
modern architecture. (Kuenzli 2012)

The effect of the light and shadow across
the façade this is obtained by the combination of convex and concave surfaces
which are found across the façade. This produces an interesting interplay with
light and shadow. If one had to observe the interior structure of the Werkbund
theatre, one can describe the foyer reveals that the main eye-shaped windows
allow plenty of light inside the area. (Kuenzli 2012)

It is hard to determine that
architectural style it was built in. Werkbund Theatre, which is considered to
be an innovation in its design and its functionality purposes, has no
ornamentation in its façade which explains why it is considered to be a
purely-based on the functionality principles. The modernist approach undertaken
by Van De Velde made the building aesthetically innovative and technologically
advanced stage. Its design can be considered to be unified and was constructed
with an individualistic approach.  



Van De Velde: De Boekentoren

Boekentoren, also known as the Book Tower or the Tower of Wisdom, it is located
in Ghent, Belgium, was designed by Henry Van De Velde in 1933. Nowadays, the
building forms part of the Ghent University Library. It currently houses
approximately 3 million books. The design of the library was mainly inspired by
the public library of Los Angeles which has a shape of a tower.(Van Peteghem 2006)(Ghent, n.d.)

book tower is situated on the highest part of the city and it acts as a beacon
or symbol to the university. The librarians were so optimistic about the plans
that Van De Velde had presented and had commissioned another architect for the
job. After Van De Velde presented a Plastic model of the entire structure, a
large amount of changes occurred with the final plan being submitted in 1935.
The construction began in 1936. The construction consisted of a 64m high tower,
with a 4 storey basement and a belvedere at the top. The material chosen for
this construction was left in the hands of the colleagues of Van De Velde,
Gustave Magnel and the reinforced concrete specialist Jean-Norbert Cloquet. The
concrete fact that the 64 m tower was built entirely of concrete and sliding
shuttering was introduced in Belgium. (Van Peteghem 2006)(Wouter Van Acker, Pieter Uyttenhove and Peteghem

On the other hand, the exterior is
composed of bare concrete with bluestone cladding. This made the façade quite
unusual. If the building is viewed from the top, one will observe the shape of
a Greek cross. This symbol represents the connection of the heavens and earth
and to merge time and space.(Flanders 2014)

The architect Van De Velde designed the
interior of the tower. If one had to consider the reading room, they are
particularly placed according to the incidence of the light on the building.
The window profiles, floor patterns, knobs, furniture apart from the rest were
all designed by the architect. Due to the war outbreak, some of the materials
were replaced such as the marble instead of the rubber for the floors, and the
only part of the furniture was produced. (Wouter Van Acker, Pieter Uyttenhove and Peteghem
2014)(Ghent, n.d.)

From the above analysis, one can
understand the versatility of the architect. He was able to design the exterior
as well as every internal detail of the building keeping in mind the continuity
and the harmony of the lines, which is typical for gothic cathedrals. Observing
the façade which is solely composed of concrete and the vertical bands of glass
form a brutalist façade, which reveals its function; protecting the 3 million
books on its concrete book shelves. The tower can be considered as a beacon of
inspiration to aspiring architecture students especially for its functionality
especially in the design of the reading rooms as mentioned previously.


I consider the architect Henry Van De
Velde to a very flexible in terms of material usage and his innovative exterior
and interior designs. It can be concluded that his works are mainly based on
functionality. This can be mainly observed in the case study of the De

Through the research I have conducted,
his architectural works are based mainly on art Nouveau style. He was
particularly aware of the modern era coming to life and therefore his designs
evolved with time. His designs managed to shape society as a whole. This is
because his ideas were mainly based to suite a specific purpose. If I had to
describe his architecture, I would describe it as utopian. I came up to this
conclusion because the majority of his architecture aims at being perfect.

One can observe that he managed to
inspire various other architects and was of a great influence on the decorative
arts that take place nowadays. In my opinion he has given a great contribution
to the world of architecture during his time. This is because he re-informed
this area with new ideas and innovation.

In my opinion the architect, observed a
transition from secession to a more functional period. His idea visualisation
was driven with time. It can be deducted that Van De Velde appreciated beauty,
functionality and passion in what he designs. All of his works were executed
with passion, this being deducted from the detail he established in the
interior design of various villas, such as the Bloemenwerf House.

From the following studies, one can
observe that the architect wanted to raise more awareness about the aesthetics
among the society. He did not stick with the ideology that concrete was an ugly
material. He introduced it in non-ornamented facades such as the De Boekentoren,
which has exposed concrete on its façade with glass window bands. This
illustrates the brutalist approach. He wanted to exploit the beauty of the
various materials available during his time. He was able to reform movement in
Europe with this ideology he created.

In conclusion, the architect Henry Van de
Velde has inspired me to experiment with new materials whilst keeping in mind
their various properties and exploit them to the best advantage.


Categories: Artists


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