Hugh Maaskant

Hugh Maaskant (1907-1977) played a vital role in the post-war reconstruction of Rotterdam. He was also one of the first architects who were engaged with the aesthetics of industrial buildings at that time, with projects as the Groothandelsgebouw, the Hilton Hotel and the Lijnbaan flats.

There is not so much info about Maaskant work at the internet, but we can read at the book published by Michelle Provoost:

He produced the lion’s share of his work in the 1950s and ’60s, the very period architectural critics generally regard as a time of crisis, when architects worldwide fell prey to confusion and lack of direction. The overriding factor in this criticism was the close link that had grown up since the war between architects originating with the modern movement and the economic-political leaders of that time. The upshot, according to the critics, was that the utopian quality that had originally informed the modern movement had ceded to an empty formalism. This critical stance on post-war modernism was also directed in part at Maaskant.

Between 1937 and 1955 He worked as a partner of architect William Tijen. This collaboration resulted during the war years in projects as Plas Avenue Flat in Kralingen and after the war, they built an aggregate number of business buildings in Rotterdam, with the largest and best known Wholesale Building, built between 1949 and ’53. After that years, Maaskant architectural philosophy changes, as Provoost also quoted: “The year 1971 marked the point in his career when the long-smouldering dissatisfaction with the abstract, large-scale, anonymous and ‘inhuman’ aspects of architecture erupted. This was part of a broader cultural about-turn in the Netherlands in which ’60s policy, which was largely directed at material growth, came under critical review. The openness and spatiality of modern architecture that for a decade had served as metaphors for the ‘open society’ fell from favour and came to be perceived as an emptiness that needed programming if existential needs for visual stimuli, security and the ‘human’ scale were to be met. The great scale that had invaded every terrain of social reality and had been accommodated by the architecture of practices like Groosman, Van den Broek & Bakema, Van Embden and Maaskant, was no longer read as an optimistic sign of growth and advancement.”

Just as the unknown Forgotten Architects, that in the 1920s and early 1930s, created some of the greatest modern buildings in Germany, Maaskant is almost unknown in some architectural circles, but his work was really important for Rotterdam’s reconstruction after the War. His interest in social housing to solve the crisis drived him to work in some projects that we think are linked to Bruno Taut’s social houses, as we can see in this image:

Some of his projects had a number of benchmarks that are clearly linked to pre-war modernism, and also his faith in technology was another aspect to link him with that movement. But only occasionally do we encounter in Maaskant the International Style with its emphasis on technical perfection and purity of form, as in this project:

The processes after the Second World War, led Maaskant to develop new urban typologies and a new architectural formal syntax that sat well with the phenomena of production, technology and industrialization, and from which he distilled an eloquent, often monumental architecture.

Maaskant was perpetually searching for the combination of programme and client that would give him the opportunity to build a monument to his time, and this is a topic that has influenced some contemporary architects. We can undoubtedly see his heritage and influence in Zaha Hadid’s project for BMW in Leipzig:

Maaskant’s Johnson Wax building [1962-1966]

Hadid’s BMW Plant Leipzig [2005]

Maaskant’s œuvre is remarkable and extense. Unfortunately the only book about his work is sold out and out of print, but you can download it as a complete PDF [Dutch] here. Enjoy!

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