Berlage's enduring masterpiece would have made the wrong headline news
Reading the Masters of Building on Berlage's Beurs (pages 36-51), it is immediately apparent just how many unfavourable headlines the project would have generated had it been constructed today. First, there is the failed competition. After an initial submission in 1884, five practices were invited to enter the final round the following year ('Architects slate mayor as Beurs is dogged by indecision'). Second, there is the way in which the commission was eventually bestowed.When plans to build the Beurs finally resurfaced a decade later, Berlage, who, along with his partner Sanders had come third in the original competition, quietly landed the commission through a strategically positioned personal contact, the alderman for public works MWF Treub ('Stock Exchange commission goes to alderman's friend'). Third, there is the fact that the plans were not presented to the public until they were well advanced ('Arrogant aldermen keep public in the dark'). Fourth, there is the inevitable stylistic debate - Berlage's design was generally considered too bare ('Outrage at Berlage's fiuglyfldesign'). Fifth, there are structural faults.
The cracks which appeared almost immediately were attributed to inadequate foundations, subsidence, problems with the heating and overambitious spans, and the original segmental arches were rapidly subdivided with supplementary piers. ('Architect defends reputation as fears grow over Beurs'stability').
All of these gripes would, of course, be forgiven and forgotten if the building had proved fit for purpose and - the acid test - popular with users.
But here, once again, Berlage manifestly failed. The brokers for whom it was originally designed objected to the ideological critique implicit in its artworks and dismissed the building itself as 'too small, too cold, too noisy'.
By 1912 the Stock Exchange had moved out ('End of the line for Berlage's Beurs').
Yet the Beurs survives and is now closer to Berlage's original vision than at any time in the past. Though far from at the heart of the new socialist order which Berlage predicted, it serves a cultural and social role.Still profoundly unfashionable, it stands as testament to the ability of outstanding architecture to endure the vagaries of political intrigue, popular opinion - and the architectural press.