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proposals- Grote kerk tower project Dordrecht
Preface (1988) for my study for the completion of the tower of
the Grote Kerk, Dordrecht - until this
day the tower is not been completed.
As far back as I can remember the Grotekerk with its imposing tower has always been part of my experience - as I was born in the old city center, and lived there until the age of ten. Even during my next thirteen years in the United States of America the tower remained within my perception as it was portrayed on prints, cookie jars and other daily household objects, in my home as well as the various immigrant friends from Dordrecht. During my holidays in Dordrecht I sketched it from different viewpoints. There was absolutely no reason to question why it looked as it did. It was just there.
For nearly forty years I have lived on the opposite riverbank, in the town of Zwijndrecht, with a twenty four hour a day view of the tower. It in fact became our personal clock - its bells ringing the time as well as melodies and concerts in the summer. Aside from this, during my interaction with this building, I learned that the tower had never been completely finished according to the original plans; and that the present baroque top, dating from 1626, was realized almost 200 years after the the construction had come to an abrupt halt after the tower had started to tilt dangerously towards a newly built harbor. The plans for a stone steeple were abandoned.
Little by little I felt a desire to make a proposal for the completion
of the tower project; at first I had thought that the projected stone
steeple which would give the tower the grandeur which the architects
had originally planned. But then there were the baroque clock structures,
which had earned their place on the tower. The truncated appearance
of the tower has become its hallmark; so would it be possible to give
it the finishing touch? Between the four stone clock structures there
was a diagonal space, which was the opposite of the four corner turrets,
flanking the steeple and emphasizing square shape of the tower. These
tower turrets had been built before abandoning the steeple plans. They
can be seen on a painting from 1525 by Master of
the H. Elisabeth-panels depicting villages swallowed up by the St. Elizabeth Flood of 18-19 November, 1421; he shows the tower as it was at the time of the painting.
So during the spring of 1987 I decided to request the Committee for Art and Architecture of Dordrecht to enable me to make a proposal based on my ideas which had then crystallized to a certain extent. In recent years, I had the habit to ask colleagues and architects from abroad, who visited me, how they viewed tower. Their opinions coincided with mine.
A central rosette on the crossing of the ribs of the vault above the fish merchants chapel in the church - depicts St. Andrew, the patron of the fish merchants, holding the cross which supports my idea for the completion of the tower. My cross has identical proportions when its projection is seen the from above.
My proposal comes down to sculptural solution for a contemporary completion of the tower. The implementation of the original plan for a steeple is infeasible with the inclination of the tower, which is why the building at the time was discontinued. Secondly this would necessitate the demolition of the baroque constructions which have now been fully accepted after more than three centuries. It would be interesting to know the arguments against this - at that time - contemporary addition, as I expect that there must have been at least some resistance. Possibly people in that period had fewer problems with the visual aspects of buildings. things become precarious when trendiness takes over; think of the 'barockisierung "in Southern Germany, or closer to home: the neoclassical fake neoclassical facade over the medieval city hall of Dordrecht during the nineteenth century. Such a denial of a style is akin to book burning. However, one must be careful not to escape in the other extreme: the rejection of all contemporary additions, complementing the existing architecture. With contemporary I mean unscathed by building regulations advisory committees. The three and a half centuries young top of the tower is currently only a functional decoration of a still unfinished and partly tiered tower that neither tapers into a spire reaching towards heaven nor does it terminate with a powerful statement - the Baroque, apex is no more than a contemporary embellishment of its time. The twelve upward pointing 'cream puffs' don't make the Gothic decision to stop further construction of the steeple good. The four bell tower clock facades are in fact independent of each other and work as flat stage sets on a further spatial and massive tower. The Gothic tracery, which was added during the restorations in the sixties of this century, disrupt spatial quality of the massive tower and simultaneously emphasize the verticality originally intended but never reached. Perhaps it would have been better to omit these embellishments. The four separate frontal clock faces resemble oversized pendulum clocks the more I look at them. For me they remain a fainthearted anti-climax to a Gothic statement. The proof that no further thought has been put into a mere backdrop per projection is the roof construction which has been pried in between the monumental pendulums.
This roof can never have been intended as an architectural element. From a distance a diagonal view - between the clock facades - this roof is disturbingly visible. The situation, as it was before 1626, when the tiers and four steeple corners were up, was in shape not only much more acceptable, but also very powerful: these vertical elements were a continuation of the strong verticality of the tower's buttresses. The present situation is quite the opposite. Because of the diagonal gaps the baroque structure seems to be to be sunk into the tower, emphasizing the shapeless roof in between. Turning the Baroque addition forty-five degrees would have been a huge improvement.
The current caution with everything that is historic impedes the further development, stands in the way of in particular of this kind of long term projects. Nevertheless, I am taking the liberty to propose to the Municipality of Dordrecht, which owns the tower, to grant me the opportunity to work out my ideas for this proposal and to study their feasibility.
My proposal is, maintaining the current baroque structure dating from 1626, and revert to the situation of the previous period interpreting the positive aspects of that interim phase. By this I will bring the emphasis back to the corners and make use of the diagonal gap between the four clock structures. The roof structure could even be preserved as interior peculiar phenomenon. I would want to give the tower a final crowning which would be a clear and forceful conclusion echoing the Cross of St. Andrew inside the church. The main component of my proposal is a large horizontal cross construction, situated on the tower - diagonally between and enclosing the Baroque facades between its arms. The ends, projecting over the corners of the tower oriented sides of the cross evoke the image of the tower as it looked in 1626 painting by the Master of the H. Elisabeth-panels.