Ton Alberts, Dutch organic architect, dies at 72
'Those without the courage for dreaming have no strength to fight' was the motto of the Dutch visionary 'organic' architect, Ton Alberts who died, aged 72, on 16 August.
Death came from the complications of a gall-stone operation, not through any lack of courage. Earlier in his life, Alberts had overcome cancer through the practice of Hatha Yoga, an experience that enabled him to seek new paths to define architecture in a more human, natural and ecological way. The path was long, but in 1989 Alberts entered the world architectural stage with his amazing building for the headquarters of what is now the ing Bank, in south Amsterdam.
The building is a startling contradiction to the conformist, hard-edged rectangular blocks that surround it. Alberts' building expresses the more female and uninhibited side of the Dutch Calvinist-Catholic duality. Ten linked sloping towers stretch sinuously towards the sky, crowned with an azure-blue, solar-panelled pentagon. Brick walls slope and change direction in ways determined by the needs of acoustics and sun paths.
Inside, the building opens into a series of spectacular streets. Water cascades down flow-formed balustrades, providing the cooling for the open- plan offices whose shape and use of natural light suits the new cyber- age. Before the first pencil was sharpened, Alberts brought the building occupants into the design team, so his architecture was not only organic - it was also democratic. In addition, the building has one of the lowest energy consumptions in the world.
Alberts' work has been wrongly described as being based on the concepts of Rudolf Steiner. In association with Max van Huut, he created other structures that flowed about the inhabitants like clothes that wrap comfortably around us. Rising above the flat northern polder landscape like a 'cathedral of power' is the structural trinity of the new Gas Unie hq (1994), where a waterfall of glass hangs like a beautiful tie.
Whether working on a small town hall, or on adaptive housing for new generations, Ton Alberts used all the modern tools and advanced instruments of design, but he was worried about the path that modern architecture was taking. In a letter to me he wrote, 'It seems we have forgotten that we have to live in buildings that are over rationalised. Besides this rationality we also need fantasy, intuition and emotion.'