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Cornelis van Eesteren

04-07-1897 - 21-02-1988

Cornelis van Eesteren (1897-1988) is a celebrated urban planner whose projects included the General Expansion Plan for Amsterdam in 1934. He is also the founder of ‘the functional city’, an urban planning approach that embraces a strict functional separation of housing, work, traffic and leisure.

As the son of a building contractor, Van Eesteren gains his professional expertise through practical experience. He attends the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten and Technische Wetenschappen in Rotterdam to acquire a theoretical grounding and, in 1919, completes his training in Amsterdam at the Voortgezet en Hoger Bouwkunst Onderricht.

In 1921, he wins the Prix de Rome with a design for a Koninklijk Instituut van Wetenschappen, Letterkunde and Schoone Kunsten. He uses the prize money to travel German and Scandinavia, where he immerses himself in the architecture and urban design of cities such as Berlin, Dresden, Prague and Vienna. He becomes familiar with the work of architects such as E. Mendelsohn, Eliel Saarinen and Adolf Loos and with artists on the Bauhaus programme in Weimar. He also meets Theo van Doesburg, with whom he designs three houses. The sketches and scale models of these dwellings are presented at the exhibition 'Les Architectes du Groupe De Stijl' in the Paris 'Galerie de l'Effort Moderne' in 1923. In 1923-1924 returns to his studies, this time to concentrate on urban planning, at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Urbaines at the Sorbonne, in Paris.

On returning to the Netherlands, Van Eesteren works as chef de bureau in the office of architect Jan Wils, but his fascination for town planning remains. In 1925 he submits proposals for a competition for the design of the Rokin in Amsterdam and for the modernisation of the Berlin Boulevard Unter den Linden. His proposal is warmly received in Germany, where he is appointed guest professor at the Staatliche Bauhochschule in Weimar between 1927-1930. Van Eesteren becomes head of the recently founded Urban Planning department of the public works division in Amsterdam in 1929. In tandem with colleague Th.K. Lohuizen, he works on the General Expansion Plan for Amsterdam in 1934, which serves as the model for expanding the Dutch capital after the second world war and includes plans for the ‘garden cities’ in Amsterdam west, and the area of Buitenveldert.

Van Eesteren is the spiritual father of ‘the functional city’, a concept that observes a strict distinction between housing, work, traffic, leisure and nature without losing sight of their harmonious interweaving. After the second world war, Van Eesteren’s efforts are primarily dedicated to the design of the IJsselmeerpolders. One of the most significant elements of this project is the design for the town of Lelystad, that was designed as the new centre of the polders (1959-1964).

From 1930 to 1947, he is chairman of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). In this capacity, he organises the congress ‘The Functional City’ in (1933). In 1948 he is appointed extraordinary professor of urban planning at Delft University of Technology, a post he holds until 1957. Together with architect J.H. van den Broek he is responsible for breaking the hold of the Delft school at the Delft University of Technology, and introducing modernism.

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