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Michel de Klerk

24-11-1884 - 24-11-1923

Despite his untimely death, De Klerk (1884-1923) left a remarkable legacy spanning architecture, interior design, graphic design and arts and crafts. His is a seminal figure in the Amsterdam School of design.

De Klerk grows up in poverty in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. His prodigious drawing talent is spotted in elementary school and, at the age of fifteen, Eduard Cuypers, the nephew of P.J.H. Cuypers, employs him as a jack of all trades in his firm of architects. P. Kramer and J.M. van der Mey work there at the time and together, the three architects will gradually free themselves of the yoke of rationalist architecture; the seeds for the Amsterdam School are planted here.

Cuypers allows De Klerk to develop his talent: Cuypers offers his staff enormous freedom and places his library at their disposal. In 1910 De Klerk marries Cuypers’ secretary before becoming an architectural draughtsman in Sloten, Amsterdam.

De Klerk owes his reputation to his designs for working class homes. The Hillehuis in Amsterdam is his first much talked-about design with which he breaks with Berlage’s rationalist stipulations. De Klerk’s ideas are most eloquently revealed in a building that is to become in icon of the Amsterdam School – The Ship, a complex of working class housing in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammer area. In conjunction with P. Kramer, he designs a complex for the housing association De Dageraad on the P.L. Takstraat. De Klerk’s socialist leanings are undoubtedly one of the reasons he is awarded these projects.

In 1918, when Berlage begins to implement his “South Plan”, an urban expansion programme for Amsterdam, he asks De Klerk to join the project as one of the architects. However, the large scale of the project curbs De Klerk’s creatively, and he turns his focus to private projects, with little success.

In 1920, De Klerk’s designs begin to change, becoming more restrained and simple. The compositions of cubist and semi-circular volumes become more abstract, more streamlined and smoother. Rich ornamentation and playful details appear less frequently. This new direction is exemplified in the Club House for the royal Dutch rowing club De Hoop on the Weesperzijde in Amsterdam. The horizontal lines and projecting roofs betray the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. This influence can also be seen in De Klerk’s last project, a branch of the department store De Bijenkorf in The Hague. It is a simple main volume with a horizontal articulation.

An unrealised design for a family home with a boathouse in Wassenaar, featuring rectangular volumes and narrow window frames reveals that De Klerk also drew on the principles of De Stijl and Bauhaus. Unfortunately, we will never discover how De Klerk would pursue this new avenue; he died at the age of 39, while still working on his design for the branch of De Bijenkorf.

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