Posthoornkerk, Amsterdam, Holland
Haarlemmerstraat , Amsterdam, the Netherlands
The Posthoornkerk is a building of more than just national importance. When first constructed, Cuypers' first church in Amsterdam attracted the attention of Ecclesiologists and theorists worldwide, partly for his use of structural polychromy, but more presciently for the fact that he designed it with galleries above the aisles. In fact he uses double galleries - architecturally a double-tribune, or triforium - to gain maximum seating capacity in a church constructed on a very tight site with constricted ground-plan. Given the that Pugin had railed AGAINST the use of galleries, and this rallying cry had been taken up by the Gothic Revivalists almost without question, their acceptance and rehabilitation is all the more remarkable, and is a sign of the high esteem that Cuypers was quickly held in by the major players in the Revival.
He uses a cloverleaf plan for the eastern portions of the church, with transepts and sanctuary being of equal length and ending in polygonal apses. This plan-form is a resurrection of a type common in Germanic Romanesque, and it is highly significant that one of Cuypers' first major works was the restoration of the late Romanesque Munsterkerk in Roermond, which also has a cloverleaf plan about the crossing. He crowns the crossing with a spiky octagonal tower and spire, internally rising on squinches. Originally this was the only tower on the church. He was called back later by the parish to extend the building westwards, where he added a western transept crowned by twin towers - again, topped with his characteristic spiky timber spires encircled by a gallery towards the apex. This western facade, the only one easily visible on a building that is very hemmed in on all sides, suggests all the height that the church possesses, for it is a very tall building internally and rises magnificently through arcade, two levels of galleries and clerestory to a typical Cuypers ribbed vault of brick.
The decline of religious observance in the Netherlands in the sixties and seventies meant that the Catholic Church was left with a huge legacy of vast buildings with no real means of maintaining them. Of Cuypers' six churches in Amsterdam, three met their fate at the hands of the wrecking ball - the Maria Magdalenakerk, a building of exceptional skill and highly original plan was demolished in 1968; the cathedralesque Sint Willibrordus buiten der Veste, his largest church and never completed, came down in 1970, and the church known as 'De Liefde' (not his best work, and finished off hastily and omitting the intended western tower) was bulldozed as late as 1990. So the survival of the Posthoornkerk, like that of the Vondelkerk, is most fortunate. Deconsecrated in 1976 it was threatened with demolition until architect Joop Stigt came along with his successful scheme in which the galleries were enclosed with glass screens to form office space, and the western portion of the nave was similarly treated. This has ensured that the major volume of the building remains as designed, and it is now available for hire for various functions. It is an exemplary piece of adaptive architecture.
Caption kindly written by my friend Rob Robinson (Bear and Rabbit) who alerted me to the work of Pierre Cuypers
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