Façades of The Hague #130

Due to a navigational mistake and bad weather the British RAF bombed residential areas and the northern entrance of the city centre of The Hague on 3 March 1945, just two months before the end of the German occupation..

It was hard for a city that had just survived one of its cruellest winters in terms of sheer cold and hunger.

Many lost their homes and the city centre itself lost part of one of its poshest streets, Korte Voorhout  

In fact the whole plot in between Korte Voorhout, Schouwburgstraat, Casuariestraat and Prinsessegracht was damaged and partly in ruins.

It is characteristic for a small city like The Hague that they were the ruins and damaged buildings of a court of justice, a theatre, a church, a jail, the Royal Dutch Automobile Club (KNAC) and a clinic, amongst others.

After the war the government wanted to have a new ministry, preferably a double one, of Justice and Finance, but decision making was stalled.

Only in the 1970s the present Ministry of Finance (Ministerie van Financiën) was built.

The huge building can be seen as symbolic for the power of the Ministry of Finance within the government.

More than ever it became clear that any political idea had a price tag, especially when society became socio-economically more and more sophisticated.

The building was designed by state architect Jo Vegter (1906-1982; who was not just responsible for modernist building but also for the restoration of quite a few old Frisian churches) and his assistant Mart Bolten (1916-2002) in strikingly modern brutalist style.

When in 1977 i went to study at the Royal Academy, just a few steps away from the Ministry, it was still a remarkably forbidding concrete palace.

The outlook of the concrete itself was only softened a bit by the prints of wood structure in it.

It was the impressive fortification of the state’s financial power.

Any Minister of Finance residing in that building must have had the idea of being a king in both a palace and a fortification.

In fact the inside of the building was a lot softer than that.

As art students we could see that, when the ministry offered rooms to show some of our graduation works, as the Royal Academy had a notorious lack of space at the time.

Enlightened civil servants would walk around amongst the works of these students who were training for a financially completely irresponsible future.

I’m not quite sure if the civil servants were really interested, but to them it was undoubtedly a nice diversion just before the summer break.

Coming to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Ministry would again give some space to students, who, for instance, would like to graduate with a performance or something like that.

Preferably with participation (obligatory!) of the audience.  (Surely, it would be beneficial to the dialogue between art and society if students were able to show their works in both public and private institutions and in public space around the Royal Academy. But that’s probably easier said than done)

Although the building had a very modernist outlook, it was technically outdated within a few decades.

There were no double glazed windows and the whole inner climate had to be completely renewed to make the building more cost-effective.

The normal Dutch reflex in such cases is to abandon the building, keep the workers in a temporary but even worse place for years, and make plans to build a new and far more prestigious architectural colossus somewhere else.

Usually, making plans will cost quite a while, sometimes years, but in case of this building it was decided it was to be refurbished, and reused.

The uniqueness of the building played a role in that decision too.

It was decided that the original design would be maintained.

However, a lot of postmodern glass was used to give the building a more open character.

Also the courtyard has been opened to the public.

Redesigning was done by Meyer and Van Schooten architects.

The official entrance at Korte Voorhout has been made more welcoming with colours by monumental artist Jan van der Ploeg (1959).

But don’t be mistaken: any political novelty may fall when civil servants in this palace strongly advise their minister that costs and benefits of the idea are not at all in balance, if the minister didn’t already have that idea.

After all, the philosophy is still that money should be spent on those who have the power to spend a lot themselves, while some drops of their honey will then trickle down to those living in the mud.

However, with different social and political crises at the same time, and a review of the Dutch civil service, that might become less normal than it sounds. Let’s hope so, or at least, let’s hope for the better.

© Villa Next Door 2021

All pictures were taken in March 2017.

Bertus Pieters

Façades of The Hague from #72 onwards: https://villanextdoor2.wordpress.com/category/facades-of-the-hague/

Façades of The Hague #1 – 71: https://villanextdoor.wordpress.com/category/facades-of-the-hague/

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