Designed by the architect J.A.G. van der Steur, The Stadsschouwburg (Civic Theatre) in Haarlem was built in 1918. After eighty years, it was necessary to adapt the building for modern use and Erick van Egeraat’s architectural firm was asked to carry out the essential renovation and extension of this state monument. For the restoration of the original building, the company Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, a leading producer of ceramic architectural products and the oldest company in the Netherlands, supplied reproductions of the original buildings ceramic features. The new fly tower at the back of the building was the most substantial part of the project.
The architect approached artist Babs Haenen to conceive the cladding of the façade. In an intensive collaboration with Van Egeraat and Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, she developed a mode of reproduction for ornamental tiles with color gradations that she had designed. The ceramic elements inserted in the recessed vertical lines in the façade of the rear part of the building, which become lighter and more colorful towards the top (a theme also repeated in the interior), refer to the details of the original building. The ceramics were manually pointed, fixed by a special process and made weatherproof. As far as we know, this is the first façade cladding in the Netherlands to be made of porcelain.
Haenen was inspired by mosses, rocks, tree-stumps and folded fabric. The design of the ornament goes back to Greek palmettes. As soon as the sun shines on them they project a leaf-shaped shadow. The colors vary from blue-green to turquoise to white, and they refer to the dark green, ceramic ornaments of Leon Senf in the old building. Haenen also sought a dialogue with the nearby Sint Bavo Cathedral which also contains a lot of architectural ceramics.
Haenen, a graduate of the Riettveld Academy in Amsterdam, is a world renowned artist and her biomorphic ceramics, which employ her signature technique of forming with colored clays, can be found in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam; Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, Pittsburg; Frans Hals Museum; Hetjens Museum; Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Shigaraki; Cooper-Hewitt Museum and Museum of Art and Design, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Museum of Fine Art, Boston and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Above image: Architect Erick van Egeraat’s renovation of The Stadsschouwburg (Civic Theatre) in Haarlem shines due to the porcelain cladding designed by ceramist Babs Haenen. Image courtesy of Erick van Egeraat and Babs Haenen.