Book review of Michelle Provoost’s ‘Hugh Maaskant – Architect

Tozindo Factory - Maaskant 1961

Tozindo Factory – Maaskant 1961

Book review of Michelle Provoost’s ‘Hugh Maaskant – Architect


Website Blueprint Magazine – review

Hugh Maaskant was a Dutch functionalist architect who evolved into a corporate modernist and fully reaped the benefits of the post-war transformation of Dutch society into a welfare state and consumer society. For a long time corporate modernist architects were somewhat dismissed, either because the quality of their work did not speak to the imagination, or because they were not avant-garde nor sufficiently ideologically motivated to be worthy of scrutiny. In the case of Maaskant both is true, in my mind. On the one hand there appears very little reflection on the part of Maaskant what the larger ideological goals are, which he served, – apart from the notion that one should follow the Zeitgeist and be as modern as possible -, and on the other hand there are very few of his buildings which are truly inspiring. The factory above and the Tomado House in Dordrecht are exceptions). His style is usually middling between modern formalism and overly muscular structural expression, and it rarely has the purity and elegance of someone like Rietveld.

Be that as it may, the reassessment of ‘corporate’ modernists is a welcome addition to the historiography of modernism, and it is laudable that Crimson have taken on Maaskant and are working on a publication of J.H. van den Broek. In the case of this book by Michelle Provoost I did have the sense that the pendulum swung too far, and that she tried to make Maaskant a more important figure than he really was. In this review I have made a distinction between historiography as a genealogical narrative versus the  writing of critical history. Regrettably the book of Provoost fits too much in the first category; hagiography as myth making. For instance her claim that Maaskant has inspired the generation of SuperDutch architects is outright overstated. Naturally people at MVRDV, Neutelings Riedijk and so on freely admit that they like his work, but I do not recall that Maaskant was mentioned much by them in the early nineties. Closer to the truth is that Maaskant was just one inspiration amongst many.
I hope you’ll enjoy the piece.


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About thomaswensing

Architect and Activist. Over the years I have become increasingly aware that I need to actively engage with the issues I care about. My passions and irritations are many and change often, but a red thread is always a deep concern over the fact that capitalism does not work as it is claimed it does, democracies only serve the needs of the few and environmental resource depletion and pressures continue to mount. I think it is time for citizen's activism to create pressure, to bang on the doors of established powers and interests until we get it right. As you will notice, if you continue to follow my blog over time, there are certain fetishes I have; modernism, social housing, the avant-garde. I propose to recuperate the Modern Project from the dustbin of history and re-establish the link between social engagement and architecture. Watch it all come down needs to be followed by let the good stuff blossom!

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