Aldo van Eyck

Aldo van Eyck at the Otterlo meeting

Aldo Ernest van Eyck was born on 16 March 1918 in Driebergen, the Netherlands. Between 1919 and 1935 he lived in London, where his father was a correspondent for the Rotterdam newspaper NRC. After studying at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague, van Eyck studied architecture from 1938-42 at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich where he became acquainted with the international avant-garde. He remained in Zurich until the war ended and married fellow student Hannie van Roojen.
In 1946, van Eyck moved to Amsterdam and worked there from 1946 until 1951 for the urban development division of the city’s Department of Public Works under Cor van Eesteren and Jacoba Bridgwater. He designed more than 700 playgrounds, which he continued to design long after setting up his own practice in 1951.

Van Eyck gained international recognition with his design of Amsterdam’s Municipal Orphanage (1955-60). His best-known works include the Pastoor Van Ars Church in Loosduinen (1963-69), the temporary sculpture pavilion at Sonsbeek (1965-66) and the PREVI housing in Lima, Peru (1969-72). He built the Hubertus House — a house for single parents and their children — during his partnership with Theo Bosch (1971-82) when the two of them also were responsible for the urban renewal and some of the new buildings in the Nieuwmarkt district of Amsterdam. In practice with his wife Hannie since 1983, he built the ESTEC building for the European Space Agency in Noordwijk (1984-89), the Protestant Church for the Moluccan Community in Deventer (1991-92), and the Auditor’s Office Building in The Hague (1992-97).

The Otterlo Circles, click to enlarge

Van Eyck was the wordsmith of Team 10, of which he was a core member from the very beginning in the 1950s until the very end. At the last CIAM congress (1959) he presented his ‘Otterlo Circles’, a diagram visualizing his syncretic approach to design, bringing together the classical, modern and vernacular traditions in architecture. Other key terms and evocative mottos include the shift from ‘space and time’ to ‘place and occasion’, ‘vers une casbah organisée’, the greater reality of the doorstep, the in-between realm, twin phenomena, reciprocity and relativity. Most of his ideas and concepts are explained in his unpublished typescript ‘The Child, the City and the Artist’ (1962); key articles by his hand are ‘The medicine of reciprocity tentatively illustrated’ and ‘Steps toward a configurative discipline’, both published in Forum, when he was part of the editorial board, which also included Bakema and Hertzberger, among others (1959-63).
Van Eyck found much of his inspiration in the world of art, notably his contemporaries of Cobra, and the poetry movement of ‘de Vijftigers’, as well as in non-western cultures such as the African Dogon which he would visit various times.

Van Eyck’s effects on the Dutch architecture scene can hardly be overestimated; two of these are the development of so-called Dutch structuralism with Piet Blom and Hertzberger as its best-known representatives, and the achievements of urban renewal, especially in Amsterdam and its Nieuwmarkt district. Van Eyck taught at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture from 1954 to 1959, and he was a professor at Delft University of Technology from 1966 to 1984. He received numerous distinctions and prizes among which the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1990. In 1994 he and his wife were awarded the Dutch BNA-kubus.
Aldo van Eyck died on 14 January 1999 in Loenen, the Netherlands.