Arthur Staal

03-07-1907 - 05-12-1993

Arthur Staal (1907-1993) is not just an architect, he is also an adventurer. He travels around the Mediterranean and explores the Middle East by motorbike, trips that yield a remarkable collection of travel sketches and photos. As an architect, he belongs to the Nieuwe Bouwen movement, and makes a name with large housing developments in the context of Dutch post-war reconstruction.

Staal is born in Amsterdam to the architect J.F. Staal and J.E. Hoogenkamp. After leaving school in 1924 he attends the School voor Bouwkunde, Versierende Kunsten and Kunstambachten in Haarlem. There, he meets fellow students Piet Worm, Siem van Woerden and Gerard Holt, with whom he later collaborate. The course is suddenly faced with closure in 1925 due to state funding cuts. Most of the students continue their (night) studies at the Hooger Bouwkunst Onderricht in Amsterdam (HBO), which will later become the Academie van Bouwkunst. However, Staal chooses to attend the MTS for Architecture in Utrecht, which has just been established. On graduating, Staal returns to Amsterdam in 1928 to work for his father’s architecture firm. From the end of 1929 to the end of 1931, he is the supervisor and architectural draughtsman for architects H.A. and J. Baanders in Amsterdam.

Although he profiles himself as an independent architect from 1930 onwards, Staal rejoins his father’s firm in 1932 and works with him on various projects. The most well-known design to result from this partnership is the plan for the new town hall on Frederiksplein in Amsterdam, submitted for a competition in 1937. Owing to the fact that there are few building commissions during the crisis years, in this period, Staal devotes himself to small (interior) renovations and designs for competitions.

In 1930, Staal joins the Amsterdam architecture society Genootschap Architectura et Amicitia (A et A) and becomes a board member a year later. Together with Albert Boeken, Staal rapidly heads the vanguard of new members – mostly former students of the School voor Bouwkunde in Haarlem – who are keen on innovation and oppose the conservative views circulating within A et A regarding the Nieuwe Bouwen.

In 1934 Staal embarks on his first period of study in France and Italy, and visits Le Corbusier in Paris who personally takes him to see a number of his villas. At the end of the ‘30s, Staal makes two trips: one to the Mediterranean when he wins the Prix de Rome in 1936, and the other in 1939, purely for his own interests, by motorbike through the Middle East.

In spring 1940, Staal returns to the Netherlands. The drawings, writings and photos he has made during his travels are published in numerous Dutch journals and newspapers including in Elsevier, De Telegraaf and in De Koplamp, a journal aimed at motorcycle buffs. Two travelogues from 1936 are published in ‘De 8’ and ‘Opbouw’. When Staal breaks away from De 8 his travelogues of 1939 will not appear in their magazine in print. He will publish them later in book form under the titles 'Onder de gouden zon van het morgenland, een reis door Egypte, Palestina and Syrië' and 'Hellas, een reis door Griekenland'. The volumes are richly illustrated with sketches and, more notably, with the many photos Staal took with his Leica – not just of artefacts but scenes of everyday life in the Orient.

During the second world war in 1941, Staal works with H.A. Maaskant on the public competition for an urban design plan for the Hofplein and Blaak in Rotterdam which were bombed during the war. None of the eighty submissions are chosen, and proposed for realisation.

After the war, Staal’s career really takes off with large residential projects for the reconstruction of Velsen/IJmuiden, the expansion plans for the west of Amsterdam, two residential projects in Utrecht and the expansions of Amstelveen and Amsterdam Osdorp. In addition to large reconstruction projects and smaller-scale housing developments for housing associations, Staal concentrates on the private market.

From his first designs in the early ‘30s to roughly the early ‘70s, Staal’s work is much-publicised in professional journals such as ‘De 8’ and ‘Opbouw’ and, after the war, the Bouwkundig Weekblad and Forum. He is the editor of Forum from 1951 to 1960. Staal also publishes articles in the aforementioned journals, and also in daily and weekly papers. He writes statements clarifying his own projects and comments on the work and ideas of his colleagues. In the 1950s, he is member of the Housing Council, the Planning Commission in Haarlem and board member of the Commission for the Historic City in Amsterdam.

In 1979 Staal signs his firm in Amsterdam over to his partner Ben Smit. This is followed by involvement in renovating the houses his father had built in 1924 in the Watergraafsmeer area of Amsterdam. His last designs are for Museumplein in Amsterdam, for which the NRC Handelsblad holds a competition in 1988. Arthur Staal dies on 5 December 1993 at the age of 86 in Amsterdam.


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