The austere exterior of the old GGD center in Geldrop in no way betrays the impressive interior, which unfolds to the visitor like the nave of a stately church. This building from the late 1960s was designed by Bossche School architect Gerard Wijnen (1930-2010). It is in danger of being demolished because Geldrop has plans to develop a new residential area here.
It shouldn’t happen, says Daan Roggeveen, founder of the Amsterdam office MORE Architecture, who grew up right in front of this building. ‘I remember being enchanted as a boy of five by the high room, the light, the deep corridors that contain the consultation rooms where I received a vaccination. It is designed as a church, but in a secular version.’ It is an important design of the Bossche School, a small but influential architectural movement that also includes Sint-Benedictusberg Abbey in Vaals and Doornburgh Abbey in Maarssen.
The former health center in Geldrop has been renovated because 45 Ukrainian refugees have been temporarily accommodated since September. What happens next is unclear. Surprisingly, the conversion to temporary housing units hardly affects the original quality of the building. In the central hall, the tall, light nave, where the sun peeks in through a raised roof structure with windows, the spatial experience is as calm and intense as when Roggeveen came here as a five-year-old to get his shot.
The ‘nave’ divides the construction into three times left, four times left. When you get going, the deep niches that hide former consultation rooms reinforce the feeling of entering a basilica, the archetype of a church. And that ratio of four to seven repeats itself in many places in the building, up to and including the ground area of 33 by 19 metres, which comes down to the ratio 1:4/7. It is precisely the formula for the plastic number that forms the basis of the Bossche school’s measurement system.
This is the first evidence that the design theories of the founder of the Bossche school, the Benedictine monk and architect Dom Hans van de Laan (1904-1991), were also applicable to non-ecclesiastical architecture. ‘Furthermore, this is an important construction for Geldrop because it marks the growth spurt the village went through in the late 1960s,’ says Roggeveen. He wants to avoid at all costs that the building has to make way for new construction.
The monk and architect Van der Laan searched all his life for the ideal proportion in the three-dimensional plan, which, in imitation of the golden ratio in the painting, should represent a universal beauty. He used a home-brewed system of mathematical ratios which results in what he called the plastic number. It is the ordering principle in the dimensioning of rooms, but also in the thickness of materials, walls, doors, windows, the depth of the recesses (the receding side of a wall at the window frames, red.). The idea is that the measures refer to each other so consistently that it also provides a legible space for the unsuspecting visitor.
Gerard Wijnen learned this measurement system in Den Bosch, where the monk Van der Laan had started his own course out of dissatisfaction with the existing architectural courses. The GGD building has not only succeeded because the dimensions are so consistent, says the son of the original architect, Miel Wijnen. The complex is designed ‘with surplus’. ‘This means that it is easy to give it a different function with a few interventions.’
Now Ukrainians are in the former consultation rooms, but before that it was already a temporary town hall and creative focal point. ‘The original structure has remained intact all this time.’ Like his father, Wijnen junior is an architect with a passion for the Bossche school. In his own practice, he notices ‘a growing interest in this architectural movement’, which is mainly found under the great rivers. “Demolishing this building would be a big mistake.”
Geldrop municipality does not want to say much about the future of construction. ‘A final decision is not yet on the agenda.’ The Ukrainians can stay there for now. It is clear that Geldrop needs houses to alleviate the housing shortage. ‘I understand that houses have to be built’, says architect and campaigner Roggeveen, ‘but this building can become the heart of the neighborhood that is to be built here. It has been shown to handle many different functions. A new public destination would do justice to the significance of the architecture and history of Geldrop.’