Vier ingenieurs als stadsbouwmeester
In the second half of the eighteenth century a number of important developments took place in Dutch architecture, resulting in the rise of austere Neoclassicism at the expense of flamboyant rococo. The ornamental Louis XV style made way for the architectonic Louis XVI style. The aim was to link up more closely with the Dutch Classicism of Pieter Post and Jacob van Campen again, as practised during the heyday of the Republic.
The Amsterdam 'stadsfabriekambt' (public works), which was thoroughly reorganized on the initiative of mayor Pieter Rendorp in 1746, played an important part in this metamorphosis. For some time Rendorp had been annoyed at the poor level of architecture in consequence of the lack of theoretical knowledge of the major designers, who were usually no more than just traditionally schooled bricklayers and carpenters who had risen from the contractors' business.
In his eyes they were under the misconception that beauty in architecture was a matter of decoration, instead of proportion. With the aid of military engineers, who had indeed received thorough training, the architectonic level of the official town buildings was to be improved from then on. In other places too, they made their entry into 'civil' architecture. Four such engineers in succession were at the head of the Amsterdam public works.
All four of them were attracted from outside the town, obviously because educated talent could not be found within the town walls. These were Gerard Frederik Maybaum (from 1746 to 1768), Cornelis Rauws (from 1768 to 1772), Jacob Eduard de Witte (from 1772 to 1777) and Johan Samuel Creutz (from 1777 to 1787), respectively; the last mentioned, unlike his predecessors, was part of a triumvirate apart from himself including the land surveyor Johan Schilling and the actual town architect, Abraham van der Hart.
These four outsiders have made an important contribution to supplanting rococo, described as the New Flamboyance, by the Noble Simplicity of Neoclassicism, which was spiritually rooted in the rediscovery of classical Greek art by Winckelmann. In cooperation with Rendorp, Maybaum introduced the fronton in the Old Men's Home (1754-'57) for the first time in half a century.
Rauws played an important part in the return to authentically Dutch sources of inspiration. As to type - construction in several floors with crowning domed tower where for a hundred years a low 'Italian' gate without superstructure had been customary - his Muiderpoort (1769-'71) was strongly related to specimens dating from the middle of the seventeenth century.
After he had perished in the fire of 1772 at the Theatre recently converted by himself, his successor continued his work along the same lines. Within the framework of a kind of Dutch Revival, De Witte was the first in Amsterdam who consistently applied the classical temple facade with pediment and columns again on large buildings; witness his projects for the new Town Theatre at Leidseplein (1773), the 'Huis onder 't Zeil' at Dam square (1774) and his contribution to the competition for the Town Hall of Groningen (1775).
His Reformed Church in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (1774-1775) was also austerely designed, just as most of his designs for smaller buildings in the service of the town. Unfortunately, De Witte was dismissed due to fraud in 1777 and the person who in the new division of tasks was charged with the care of the town buildings - Van der Hart - being a traditional self-taught architect himself, opted for a less spectacular architectural style, a sober brick Classicism, reducing the number of classical elements to a minimum.
His colleague Creutz, who was much more international in his outlook, appeared to have to turn to public commissions from outside the town walls and a private practice in order to realize his aspirations. Within this framework he designed the country house Rijnhof near Leyden (1774), the Rechthuis of Westzaan/aan (1781) and the Reformed Church of Urk (1787). Moreover, in Westzaan he effectively realized the ideal of international Greek Revival, the symbol of Noble Simplicity, something utterly new in The Netherlands: a portico with four detached columns.