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Adrianus Carolus Nicolaï

05-11-1914 - 14-11-2001

Arno Nicolaï's firm in Emmen received commissions from within the region, but also beyond it. He designed schools, churches, old people’s homes, houses and company buildings in municipalities across the country. After 1960, he also designed shopping centres, libraries and office buildings.

Adrianus Carolus (Arno) Nicolaï was born in Breda on 5 November 1914. In Utrecht, he went to HBS, a former type of Dutch secondary school, and then attained a certificate in Architecture from MTS Bouwkunde, a Dutch intermediate technical school. In 1938, together with fellow students Ernest Groosman and Batavus Westerhuis, Nicolaï left for a study tour that took him across Northern Italy, taking in Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Ravenna, Padua and Venice, before heading back through Switzerland and Germany.

Nicolaï gained his first work experience as a draftsman at the architectural firm of Leo G. Visser in Zeist. On the recommendation of Visser, Nicolaï went to Amsterdam. From 1939, he spent seven years there (during the Second World War as well) working as a draughtsman at the architectural firm of P. Zanstra, G.H.L. Giesen and K.L. Sijmons.

Nicolaï continued to study in the meantime. Until the outbreak of the war, together with fellow students Groosman, Westerhuis and others, he attended private classes taught by A. Boeken, Mastenbroek and P. Zanstra. They had set up their course in 1938 because they were dissatisfied with a system of higher professional education that they regarded as conservative.

After this private course was discontinued at the start of the occupation in 1940, Nicolaï enrolled at an institution of higher professional education in Amsterdam to become an architect. Fellow students included Groosman and Lotte Stam-Beese. He graduated from Van Tijen in 1945. His graduation design project was a student association building on Doelenstraat in Amsterdam. During the war years, he participated in the Doornse Leergangen symposiums. These discussion meetings were supposed to lead to a greater understanding between two schools of architecture with diverging views, functionalists and traditionalists.

In 1946, Nicolaï married interior designer Cora Chaillet. They met each other when in higher professional education, later working together at the same architectural firm, Zanstra, Giesen and Sijmons. In that same year, they moved to south-east Drenthe, after Nicolaï got a commission through Cora’s father to draw up plans for the extraction company ‘Nederland’, part of Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij, the oil company that later became Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij. Most constructions were built in Schoonebeek, Coevorden and Emmen in the period 1947-1951.

In the years after the war, Nicolaï took part in the Prix de Rome for Fine Architecture and won a scholarship that allowed him to take a long trip abroad. In 1948-1949, he spent five and a half months travelling with fellow prize-winner Jaap Schippers and Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet in an old war jeep and a trailer across France, Spain, North Africa and Italy. The second year had to be spent studying in the Netherlands. As part of his studies, Schippers created a design for Zaanse Schans; Nicolaï’s design is unknown.

After his return, Nicolaï set up an independent architectural firm, located initially in Oldenzaal and from 1949 until 1983 in Emmen. The firm received commissions from within the region, but also beyond it. Nicolaï designed schools, churches, old people’s homes, houses and company buildings in municipalities across the country. After 1960, he also designed shopping centres, libraries and office buildings.

On top of his work as an architect, in the 1950s Nicolaï taught in preparatory professional education in Groningen, and he was also a member of the editorial team for the journal Bouw, a (correspondent) member of Forum, a member of the board of Architectura et Amicitia (1956-1960), a member of the board of the Dutch department of the Union Internationale des Architectes, a member of the planning authority for the province of Drenthe, and on many other committees, especially those relating to the construction of schools. Arno Nicolaï died in Emmen on 14 November 2001.

 

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