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J. J. Pieter Oud (Dutch, 1890–1963)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Dutch architect and urban planner. He studied architecture at the Kunstnijverheidsschool Quellinus (1903–6) and at the Rijksnormaalschool voor Tekenonderwijzers (1908–10), both in Amsterdam, and at the Technische Universiteit in Delft. From 1906 to 1908 he was apprenticed to Joseph Cuypers and Jan Stuyt, and to Theodor Fischer in Munich in 1911–12. His first design to be built was the Woonhuis Hartog-Oud, a row house in Purmerend, completed in 1906. In 1913 he established an independent practice in Purmerend, which he moved to Leiden c. 1914. There he worked with W. M. Dudok on a small workers’ housing complex (1916) in Leiderdorp; he had already addressed the issues of mass housing in small commissions of his own.

Oud met Theo van Doesburg c. 1915, and although he was not a signatory of the manifesto of De Stijl, he was closely associated with the group. He wrote several articles for the magazine De Stijl: Maandblad voor nieuwe kunst, wetenshap en kultur, in which he distinguished themes that would be important in new architecture: the industrialization of building; the relation between housing and urban design; the collaboration of architects and artists. Ornamentation and references to the past were anathema, to be replaced by a search for an abstract and universal language of form. In 1917 he collaborated with van Doesburg and other members of De Stijl on two buildings. The first was the Vakantiehuis De Vonk, a new classroom building for a summer camp in Noordwijkerhout; its overall style is conservatively traditional. Van Doesburg designed the hall and the tiles on the floor, and on a panel over the door were placed irregular geometrical patterns in grey, white, black and yellow in an attempt to ‘destructure’ the architecture with bars of colour. The remodelling of a wooden beach house, the Villa Allegonda in Katwijk, resulted in a more recognizably modern building with flat roofs and orthogonal building volumes. The ribbon windows were, however, added by Oud in a later remodelling.

In addition to these early examples, Oud published in De Stijl other, unbuilt, designs that were more abstract and theoretical. A project for a ‘beach boulevard’ at Scheveningen, a stepped row of seafront flats (1917; see Barbieri, p. 35), became a recurring image in international housing design. In 1919 Oud published the most vigorous of a series of designs for a small factory for his family’s business. He had developed these from a traditional version of 1916 through versions deriving from the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and from De Stijl principles; he went on to design a simple flat-roofed version in 1920 (see Barbieri, pp. 48–9). By 1922 he had distanced himself from De Stijl, although his façade for the Café De Unie (1924; destr.; rebuilt 1985–6) in Rotterdam was composed according to the group’s principles of graphic design (see Stijl, De).

On the advice of H. P. Berlage, Oud was appointed in 1918 municipal architect of Rotterdam, a position he held until 1933, and which allowed him the chance to put his theories about mass housing into practice: he was particularly concerned with strip building, the orientation of houses towards living comfort, standardization and the use of construction and materials. In 1922 he made a study trip to Germany to investigate the application of reinforced concrete and prefabricated building elements. In 1924 he was in charge of a publication about housing in Rotterdam, produced on the occasion of the Internationale Conferentie over Volkswoningebouw. His first housing designs to be built were in the Spangen district of Rotterdam, where he worked with Michiel Brinkman and others. Block IX, completed in 1920, is Oud’s work entirely and comprises a perimeter block with a communal garden in the courtyard, the outer corners resolved in a simple composition of orthogonal masses. Van Doesburg was consulted on an exterior colour scheme to be painted on to the plain brick façades, but his plan was never executed. Included in the complex, however, was a model house with furniture by Gerrit Rietveld and geometric décor by Oud. In 1920–21 Oud built eight similar blocks in the Tusschendijken district, of which one survives.

In 1922–3 Oud designed Oud-Mathenesse, a triangular group of houses; since these were intended only as temporary houses, they were built in a simple, traditional way with single-pitch roofs and stucco walls; there were, however, several simplified De Stijl details at the doorways, and the construction shed for the site supervisor was a tour de force of wide wood planking arranged in dynamic abstract designs and painted in primary colours. In two subsequent housing projects Oud prepared designs that provided an aesthetic for concrete housing, although for practical reasons they were both constructed by conventional methods. The first was a long row in Hoek van Holland, where Oud added curved shop windows at the end of the rows, so emphasizing further the horizontality of the solid balcony parapets; these became widely published images upon the project’s completion in 1927 . A project of several blocks in the Kiefhoek neighbourhood followed (1925–9; for illustration see Rotterdam); it retained the rounded corner shops but placed balconies at the rear of the units, producing row façades of extreme rectilinear simplicity, which Oud emphasized with continuous ribbon windows. He also prepared at his own expense the design for the Reformed Apostolic church in Kiefhoek (1929), which is very similar to the unbuilt factory project of 1919.

As a result of these two complexes, Oud’s reputation extended abroad. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe invited him to participate in the Weissenhofsiedlung exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927. Within the general international style of the exhibition Oud’s design was a straightforward row of five two-storey units; special attention was given to the issues of standardization for minimal housing and in particular to a rationalized kitchen design. In 1931 Oud carried out his last major project for the Rotterdam housing service, the design of the Blijdorp neighbourhood. It combined perimeter blocks with nine free-standing rows or ‘strip buildings’, twelve units long and four storeys high, orientated for maximum sunlight. The aesthetics of the design were uncompromising: plain, orthogonal buildings with smooth, unmodelled white façades and ribbon windows set flush in the walls, punctuated only by small cantilevered balconies with pipe railings. The project was never built, but Oud’s elegant renderings were widely published and circulated (see Barbieri, pp. 113–16).

Blijdorp was seen as the epitome of functionalism and ‘new building’; Oud had already given impetus to these ideas in 1927, when as architectural editor of the magazine i 10 he published the manifesto of De 8. He was, however, no more interested in becoming locked to the movements of the 1930s than he had been with De Stijl; he lectured at the Bauhaus but did not accept an invitation to teach there, and he gradually distanced himself from the CIAM. He resigned from his municipal position in Rotterdam in 1933 and established an independent practice, first in Rotterdam and later in Wassenaar. There was little work, however, and most of the designs of this period are for single-family dwellings, including some that show a return to traditional forms and detailing. In 1937 Oud again began work on substantial commissions with the interiors and furniture for the ocean liner Nieuw Amsterdam, of which the luxurious design and finish formed an acute contrast to the sober mass housing projects that had earned him his reputation. His next designs showed a change not only in clientele but in aesthetic approach also. A large office building begun in 1938 for an import company in The Hague (completed in 1942 and known as the Shell building after a later occupant), was composed in a symmetrical, monumental way and was lavishly decorated inside and out. It was followed by a slightly historicist unbuilt design for the renewal of Hofplein (1942–3), Rotterdam, and by the Spaarbank (1942–50) in Rotterdam, also with a symmetrical composition and applied ornament. Other unbuilt designs from this time show a return to more conservative, monumental ideas, as do Oud’s two constructed national war memorials in Rhenen (1948) and on the Dam in Amsterdam (1949). Oud was severely criticized, particularly in the foreign press, for his relapse from modernism.

The Shell building seems to have marked the limit of Oud’s explorations in this direction, however; the bank is already less floridly ornamented and the memorials are quite geometric and dynamic in their overall composition. The Esveha office building (1948) in Rotterdam is relatively plain, and both the Tweede Vrijzinnig Christelijk Lyceum (1949–56) in The Hague and the office block (1956–61) for the insurance company De Utrecht are unequivocally functionalist. It was, however, in two large public commissions that Oud summed up his researches, which had brought him to a style that he referred to as a ‘poetic functionalism’. A children’s rehabilitation centre (1952–60), the Bio-herstellingsoord near Arnhem, has an axial site plan that emphasizes a look-out tower and a conical heating building as monumental features, but the forms of the buildings and the detailing vocabulary are dynamic, functional and free of applied ornament. The national Congresgebouw in The Hague, begun in 1956 and completed after his death by his son Hans Oud, has an asymmetrical layout of a large facilities block and a triangular tower. In large part the complex is dictated by functional requirements, but it also has monumentality, lively detailing and, in the blue and yellow glazed masonry of the façades, a reference to De Stijl.

Eveline Vermeulen
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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