Dutch pavilion World Exhibition 1958

Brussels, Belgium

G. Rietveld, J.H. van den Broek, J.B. Bakema, J. Boks, F.P.J. Peutz


Dike, sea, lighthouse: the Dutch polder landscape in the shop window

Fig.1 The pavilion garden at the Expo '58 was not a replica of the Dutch landscape but a patchwork of landscape fragments and iconic images. (Image: Nationaal Archief)
Fig.2 Map of the Dutch entry. (Image: park.org)
Fig.3 The terrain was divided into two levels. (Image: Rijkswaterstaat)
Fig.4 The basin with which the surf was simulated was illustrative of the architect's attitude to design: it was reduced to the essence, but conveyed the feeling. (Image: Rijkswaterstaat)
Fig.5 The hostesses and goat Betsy. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1958, the first world exhibition since the Second World War was organized in Brussels. The theme was "Technology in the Service of Man," a subject that the Netherlands used to show off its civil engineering achievements in the fight against water. ( i ) A for the occasion formation by architects G. Rietveld, J.H. van den Broek, J.B. Bakema, J. Boks and F.P.J. Peutz designed the Dutch entry: a number of pavilions in a Dutch polder landscape.

The assigned terrain was descending, prompting the designers to divide it into two levels. The higher part referred to the industrial development of the Netherlands, the lower part to the agricultural polder landscape, with a dyke separating the two parts. In the outdoors were characteristic elements from the Dutch landscape, such as "a lighthouse and a basin with rippling water, flowing down into a ditch and bubbling up into a pumping station". ( ii ) The pavilion garden was not a replication of the Dutch landscape, but a patchwork of landscape fragments and iconic images. The basin with which the breaking waves were simulated was impressive, illustrative of the design attitude of the architects. Visually, there was nothing natural about the bowl of water, but when visitors closed their eyes, they felt the water on their skin, the wind through their hair, and smelled the salty sea air. Hostess Beatrijs van Liebergen mentioned: “People mainly wanted to see the artificial sea. Because that was very impressive, you would swear that you were at the sea“. ( v ) Also elsewhere, “citations” from the polder landscape were sufficient: a row of poplars, pollard willows, a grass dike, basalt boulders, a dolphin, a lighthouse, a meadow and a consort. It was about smell and feeling. In the "polder" stood a cow that was milked by the farmer. A suckling pig and goat Betsy completed the whole.

It worked. Citations were plentiful, but because they had been reduced to their essence, it was absolutely no fuss. The pavilion was chosen as one of the best pavilions at the expo. "I am full of admiration for the waves generated by technical means that crash into the banks," said a boy on a school trip. ( iii ) Architect J.J.P. Oud called the pavilion "a symbol that does not speculate on the cheap show element of clogs and mills, but that for the Dutchman who goes to the exhibition is somewhat the Netherlands itself and for a stranger the atmosphere makes our country tangible." ( iv )

( i ) Website Gahetna.nl, Expo 58 Nederland als grote vier, consulted October 2017.
( ii ) http://archief.nai.nl/collectie/bekijk_de_collectie/item/_rp_kolom2-1_elementId/1_290141
( iii ) Website Humo.be, Expo 58 Naar de Wereldtentoonstelling te Brussel, consulted October 2017.
( iv ) Marie-Thèrése van Thoor, Het gebouw van Nederland. Nederlandse paviljoens op de wereldtentoonstellingen 1910-1958, Zutphen 1998, p. 176.
( v ) Website Andere Tijden.nl, Expo-58, consulted October 2017.