Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck was brought up in England, and spent his early years at a school where children selected their own curriculum from a set of assignments. Classes were often held outdoors in “Squirrel Hall,” a structure built by the students and supported by the branch of an old oak tree. If biography is destiny, this story, from an early chapter of Robert McCarter’s recent monograph on Van Eyck (Yale University Press, 2015), is most telling.
Van Eyck has always seemed a Zelig-like figure in postwar architecture history,, rebuilding Amsterdam after World War II, popping up in seminal collectives like CIAM and Team 10, and anticipating the cellular experimentation of the 1970s with projects like the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage (1955-60). I’d seen the slide of the orphanage from above numerous times, a staggered, non-hierarchical structure, seemingly infinitely expandable, that pointed to office and university projects by Herman Hertzberger (who worked for Van Eyck), Walter Netsch for SOM and Roche Dinkeloo. But no professor ever bothered to take us inside, sidelining the difference between children and adults. Van Eyck, as McCarter shows, cared very much about that difference.