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Herman Haan

22-05-1914 - 01-05-1996

Herman Haan (1914-1996) is fascinated by Africa. In Africa’s ‘primitive’ desert culture, he comes across an alternative for the rational building style favoured by post-war Holland.

Herman Petrus Coenraad Haan is born in Amsterdam, but grows up primarily in Winschoten where, in 1920, his father becomes director of the sales office of the Verenigde Oost-Groningse Steenfabrieken. After completing a variety of training courses, around 1932, Haan decides to become an architect, largely because of his skill as a draughtsman. Thanks to his father’s contacts, Haan receives his first sizeable commissions.

In 1940, a few years before the city is bombed by the Germans, Haan moves to Rotterdam where his practice flourishes in the post-war years, partly due to connections he made while in the Rotterdam resistance, in the commando group of the south Rotterdam area. At first, Haan’s projects are mainly in the utilities sector but, as his career progresses, he concentrates on designing homes. In 1953, he designs a villa for himself in Kralingen. His career reaches its apex in the 1950s, and culminates with the completion of a number of large apartment complexes.

Haan’s second passion is Africa. At the age of fifteen, he borrows a hundred guilders from his father for a trip to Morocco where he falls under the spell of the desert culture of the Sahara. In later life, he undertakes several expeditions to the southern periphery of the Sahara, to the Dogon. He travels with different architects and friends, and his explorations are even featured in the papers and on TV. Haan learns how to work with only the minimum of resources, and to be frugal in his use of (construction) materials. The open relationship with the natural environment plays a pivotal role in his work.

His growing interest in non-western cultures gradually replaces his passion for architecture. Herman Haan dies in Vlaardingen in 1996.

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