f_413_280_16777215_00___images_blog_images_isih-intell-hinterlands.jpgIn June 2014, the International Society of Intellectual History organised their 2014 conference 'Intellectual Hinterlands. It was hosted by Victoria College, Toronto, Canada. Caroline Voet presented the paper:
'Architectural modernity through religious traditions. The peculiar blend in Dom Hans van der Laan’s “Architectonic Space”.'


The paper was presented at the session ‘Apocryphal and Apostolic Modernism. Forgotten connections between
religion and architecture, 1945-1970’,
organised by Dr. Rajesh Heynickx from the K.U.Leuven.

Architectural modernity through religious traditions.
The peculiar blend in Dom Hans van der Laan’s “Architectonic Space”.
Abstract proposal for the 2014 ISIH-conference ‘Intellectual Hinterlands’, Toronto.
Dr. Caroline Voet

In 1960, the Benedictine monk-architect Dom Hans van der Laan (1904-1991) realised a crypt in Vaals, The Netherlands, which was unlike any of his previous more traditionalist churches. This utterly austere space sought an elementary architectonic expression through carefully proportionated rough building blocks. The reason for this change can be attributed to Van der Laan’s study trip to Rome, or the contacts he had with a new young generation of church builders.
But beyond these obvious architectural influences, Van der Laan sought to express architecture through certain fundamentals, and the motivations that drove this quest were utterly religious. Through his Benedictine background he tried to incorporate Thomas Aquinas’ reading of Plato and Aristotle as a foundation for what he saw as a universal architectural typology.
This paper will explore this intrinsic but capricious relation between Van der Laan’s attempts to define a fundamental architecture and the religious traditions they sprung from. How did he deduct his design methodology from his research through religious concepts?
Although Van der Laan seamed to attempt to withdraw from any contemporary discourse, we will expose that one of the main instigators for his evolution towards his elementary architecture was Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), who, in Europe ,was responsible for the ‘new theology’, as such playing a great role in the Second Vatican Council. Blondel provided Van der Laan with specific insights on the process of cognition, focussing on the knowledge of the concrete and singular reality. It formed the ground for Van der Laan’s two manifestos De Architectonische Ruimte (Architectonic Space, 1977) and Vormenspel der Liturgie (Form-play of Liturgy, 1985).

The research is based on primary source archive material (unpublished letters and communication, notes, design sketches, lectures…). Hereby, underlying motives and interconnections between Van der Laan’s religious and architectural thinking can be revealed. As such, the work of Dom Hans van der Laan, as a peculiar mix of religious and philosophical concepts, offers new insights on the interaction between religion and architecture, beyond the traditionalist-modernist dichotomy.

Dr. Caroline Voet, architect, doctoral assistant
KU Leuven – Faculteit Architectuur
Campus Sint-Lucas (LUCA), Paleizenstraat 65, 1030 Brussel / Hoogstraat 51, 9000 Gent, Belgium