Many generations of architects have been inspired by the extraordinary architecture of Willem Dudok. Following the construction of the Town Hall in Hilversum, Dudok became recognised worldwide as one of the leading architects in Europe. This was primarily because of his ability to combine the best of the 20th-century architectural movements from the Netherlands. It also ensured foreign commissions that were actually realised.
Dudok had a liking for Berlage’s style, but he could not fully come to terms with simply reproducing it as such. Rather, he sought the best of a range of styles, including expressionism. Dudok was also an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the American architect’s influence can be seen in the Hilversum Town Hall. He was also influenced by the Amsterdam School and De Stijl. Dudok blended all of these styles and movements, incorporating them into his own creations.
The Collège Néerlandais (Dutch College) is one of the 38 buildings of the Cité Universitaire in Paris. At the height of his career, when he had just submitted the design for the Hilversum Town Hall, Willem Marinus Dudok was commissioned to design this student residence. It is the only realised design by Dudok in France.
Construction began in 1928, but due to a lack of financing, the building process was quite arduous and several changes had to be made. Yet these did not compromise the original concept.
The Collège Néerlandais is considered to be one of Dudok’s most important works outside the Netherlands. It has many similarities to the Town Hall in Hilversum. The Parisian building, just like the town hall, has large brise-soleils and overhangs, long horizontal and vertical fenestration, and a tower. It was not made in brick, however, because that would have been too costly.
The building has an efficient layout. All of the public areas are situated around a large courtyard, including the theatre, music studio, and tea room. A second, smaller courtyard forms a buffer between the contemporary student housing and the apartments which housed the staff. The upper floors contain 134 rooms, where a total of 168 students can be accommodated. The entire building is spaciously planned and finished in light colours.
The Collège Néerlandais still maintains its original function, and has been a national monument since 2005. Renovation of the building started in 2009. When it was named a heritage monument, both France and the Netherlands pledged money for a full restoration, which was completed in May 2016.
Besides the student housing in Paris, Dudok also designed a cultural centre in Baghdad (unrealised) and the Lighthouse Cinema in Kolkata. Read an article about Dudok’s heritage in Kolkata, from ‘The work of Dudok, 100 years of significance’ (2015), DOCOMOMO Foundation (TU Delft, Faculty of Architecture). The article was written by Bauke van der Pol, author of the book De VOC in India.