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2010 WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize goes to DOCOMOMO’s founders

October 25, 2010

Ready for a little DOCOMOMO history? The international committee was formed by Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge in The Netherlands in 1988. Earlier this month the two were awarded the 2010 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize for the restoration of Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, The Netherlands—the very project that helped launch global efforts to preserve modern architecture at risk.

Zonnestraal Sanatorium was designed by Johannes Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet between 1926-1928 and completed in 1931. The complex of three pavilions was part of a colony for the care of tubercular patients. Interestingly, the sanatorium was established with the idea that tuberculosis would be eradicated in 30 to 50 years and that the building would no longer be needed. Duiker uniquely balanced the requirements of the patients with the building’s projected life span, creating glass and steel structures of striking beauty and great fragility. Celebrated as a monument even while under construction, Zonnestraal fell into disuse and obscurity after WWII. In the 1960s it was rediscovered. Architectural historians and critics again established the complex as a major monument of Modern architecture. In 1982 the Dutch government commissioned Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge to develop a plan for saving the country’s Modern heritage using Zonnestraal as a prototype. That big-picture assignment was the inspiration behind their founding of DOCOMOMO International in 1988.

The architect’s respective firms, Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten, conducted extensive research to learn the rationale behind the design. The main building was carefully dismantled to provide information on early modern building materials. These findings, along with a structural analysis, guided the conservation plan that restored or reconstructed the main pavilion’s original facades, partitions and finishes. In an inspiring twist, the Zonnestraal complex is again in the health care business. New tenants include an obesity clinic and sports-injury rehabilitation center.

WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize jury chair Barry Bergdoll notes that the restoration “reconfirms Zonnestraal’s standing as one of the most experimental designs in the fervently creative decades of modernism between the two world wars. It is at once a beacon of Dutch rationalism and a major work of modern architecture internationally.”

We couldn’t be happier to see the visionaries behind what is now a thriving organization in 54 countries honored with the WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize. Wessel de Jonge has had an extensive career as an architect specializing in the restoration and preservation of Modern architecture starting with Gerrit Rietveld’s 1953 Biennial Pavilion in Venice through the more recent large-scale rehabilitation of the Van Nelle Design Factory in Rotterdam. Current projects include the reconstruction of the Poème Electionique pavilion from the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels (Le Corbusier, Xenakis, Varèse). Hubert-Jan Henket is professor emeritus at Eindhoven and Delft Technical Universities and has been involved in architectural education throughout his career. His practice is wide-ranging, from new buildings to restorations and adaptive reuse of historic structures. From 1996 to 2008 Henket was the supervising architect for Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Both men were given royal honors by Queen Beatrice in 2003.

The World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize recognizes architects and designers who through heroic preservation efforts and inventive architectural solutions are ensuring the survival of modern movement buildings by giving them sustainable, vital futures. More information on the WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize:

top: Hubert-Jan Henket (L) and Wessel de Jonge (R) at Zonnestraal, 2010; center: Zonnestraal Sanatorium (1926-1931) after restoration; bottom: Zonnestraal Sanatorium before restoration.

Bierman Henket Architecten & Wessel de Jonge Architecten
Bierman Henket Architecten & Wessel de Jonge Architecten