In April 2010 The Kröller-Müller Museum mounted an exhibition about the life and work of Robert van ’t Hoff (1887-1979) – a socially committed architect who turned his back on De Stijl because of its lack of social engagement. NAI managed the small Van ’t Hoff archive.
(Published on nai.nl 29 March 2010)
The last retrospective devoted to Van ’t Hoff was at the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven and dates back to 1967. The new presentation was prompted by the Kröller-Müller Museum’s purchase of the complete interior of Van ’t Hoff’s study in New Milton in England. Built to his own design, this stark construction allowed him to both shut out the world and to design his own vision of it.
As he no longer worked as an architect after 1945, Van ’t Hoff has left behind only a modest body of work. His major works date back to the 1910s, after a trip to America in 1914 where he met Frank Lloyd Wright. By then, he had already completed his training as an architect in England and created his first designs. Wright provided the inspiration for a more abstract type of architecture. In 1914, Van ‘t Hoff designed Villa Henny in Huis ter Heide, which became known as the first concrete house in the Netherlands, ‘The first and likewise autonomous framing of Wright’s architectural concept in the Netherlands.’ (1) After becoming acquainted with Theo van Doesburg and J.J.P. Oud, he joined the avant-garde movement De Stijl in 1917.
Because, in his opinion, De Stijl showed insufficient social engagement, Van 't Hoff broke off this association just one year later. The consequences of the First World War, the housing shortage and poor living conditions reinforced his belief that radical changes in society were needed. Starting off as a socialist, he went on to embrace communism, with great expectations for an association between avant-garde and revolution. Eventually, he came to realise that De Stijl was purely and exclusively in the service of art.
In 1923, he travelled to England where he made contact with anarchists and published socio-critical pamphlets. In the late 1920s, he lived in a commune in America for a while, returning to the Netherlands after a disagreement about a design commission. He settled in New Milton in England for good in 1937, living a secluded life working on an estate, making furniture and reading socially critical studies. His final achievement as an architect was the design of a residential commune, made in 1945 but never executed.
Van ’t Hoff destroyed most of his archive during the Second World War. However, he made eleven panels that together present an overview of his oeuvre. The NAI (then still the ‘NDB’) acquired these panels, various other archival records and his collection of books on architecture in 1973. In addition to the panels, several other documents are on display at the exhibition, such as photos of Van ’t Hoff from Piet Elling’s archive, documents and records of contemporaries such as Klaarhamer and Van Doesburg, as well as several issues of the De Stijl magazine.
Exhibition and book
The exhibition All or nothing - Robert van ’t Hoff, architect of a new society was on show from April 2 until August 29 2010. A monograph about Van ’t Hoff was published to accompany the exhibition. It includes a complete overview of his works with contributions by Dolf Broekhuizen, Evert van Straaten and Herman van Bergeijk. The book is edited by Dolf Broekhuizen, who also curated the exhibition, and is published by NAI Publishers.
Robert van 't Hoff. - Delft: TH Delft; Eindhoven: Stedelijk van Abbe Museum, 1967. - 22 cm. Catalogue and poster of the 1967 exhibition.