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Vaillantlaan

Den Haag

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Vaillantlaan

Client: Gemeente Den Haag

Designers: Jo Coenen

In the 1980s, when urban renewal threatens to turn part of the Schilderswijk into a renovated architectural hodgepodge, The Hague city council invites architect Jo Coenen to devise a plan to preserve the unity of the neighbourhood. 

At the time, city officials such as Adri Duivenstein, alderman for urban renewal in The Hague, who himself grew up in the Schilderswijk, are eager to see the city restored to its former glory. For the Vaillantlaan, which has yet to be revivified, the Municipal Urban Development Department formulates a series of specifications with the hope of creating a more seamless urban renewal operation. They envisage the Vaillantlaan as a true avenue – wide and spacious, with ‘architectural allure’. The existing buildings which contain 1100 dwellings will need to be torn down, and the redesigned Vaillantlaan will have fewer shops.

In 1987, Jo Coenen is asked to come up with a master plan to orchestrate the redevelopment. Coenen develops an avenue that begins with a large square, proceeds to cut straight through the Schilderswijk, takes a gentle curve and then continues in a straight line. He envisages trees lining both sides of the avenue, behind which long, four-layer apartment blocks will arise. Junctions are accentuated by the addition of several extra storeys.

The most spectacular and unique part of Coenen’s plan is the ‘construction kit’ he designs for the building facades. Coenen comes up with a design that integrates around 3700 facade elements, intended to ensure that, without precisely defined regulations, the blocks along the Vaillantlaan will become a diversity in unity or unity in diversity. Coenen hopes that, without a collective style, his twentieth-century colleagues will recreate what nineteenth-century architects did automatically when classicist stylistic devices were widely accepted.

The Hague municipality has earmarked 12,000 extra Dutch guilders for each apartment on the Vaillantlaan, but the indecisiveness of housing associations, contractors, construction material suppliers and new local politicians hampers the implementation of the grand master plan. It is a miracle that so much of the project can actually be realised. The actual scale of Coenen’s construction kit proves to contain not 3,700 elements, but a far smaller number of prefab components. In spite of this, architects such as Lafour & Wijk and Hoenders Dekkers manage to achieve an astonishing visual variety. Throughout the entire length of the avenue (over one kilometre), the prefabricated elements appear in ever-changing configurations – the red brick, the columns, plinths, the concrete cornices and deep window frames that were a particular issue for some architects during the design process as they blocked light from entering the dwellings behind. Now completed, the Vaillantlaan is a feat of metropolitan uniformity. With its presence and style, the new Vaillantlaan rivals its predecessor. The re-invigorated avenue is more than simple an echo of the old, and offers a more dignified and monumental backdrop to what is still a tough everyday existence in the Schilderswijk.

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