“The city is the most beautiful building!” Exhibition W.M. Dudok as an urban planner

Willem Marinus Dudok (1884-1974) enjoys world fame as the architect of the Hilversum town hall. It is less known that Dudok was also a gifted urban planner. He worked across all scales: from the small scale of residential neighborhoods in Hilversum in the period 1918-1925 to the large scale of the Hilversum expansion plan and the structure plan for the entire territory of The Hague. The exhibition in the Dudok Architecture Center (DAC) shows the previously underexposed work of Dudok as an urban planner.

When Dudok became director of Public Works in Hilversum in 1915, he was not only commissioned to design a new town hall, but also to draw up an expansion plan for Hilversum. During his career he focused more and more on urban design. At the time, urban design was not yet an independent discipline. An architect engaged in urban development called himself an architect-urbanist such as Cornelis van Eesteren, or, like Dudok, an architect-urban planner. Dudok regarded the urban planner as an orchestra conductor who had to bring all dimensions of the city into harmonic proportions. On the parallel with music, Dudok remarked: “I think it was Berlioz who said:” The most beautiful instrument is the orchestra. This makes the city the most beautiful building! “”

The field of work of the urban planner is complex. It is about the relationship between city and landscape, the relationship between built-up and undeveloped areas and the importance of infrastructure and green systems. This requires a vision of the future of the city. Dudok’s vision on urban development was a special one and is highly topical nowadays. He thought that the urban structure should express something about the underlying landscape and the character of the city and spoke of a “termination plan” or “completion plan”. His starting point was not the future buildings, but the characteristic of the open space present. Dudok’s aim was that the city was encapsulated by the surrounding landscape. The terms termination and completion meant that the city was “finite”, but not “finished”; he was looking for space for development in the existing city. By keeping the focus on the core, the core and the urban expansion could be developed in a coherent manner. Dudok’s careful handling of the landscape arose from the realization of a strong regional identity with compacted centers in extensive nature. He applied the concept of the finite city to the expansion plans for Hilversum (1933-1935), The Hague (1934-1939) and Wassenaar (1934-1937).

Shortly after the Second World War, Dudok gave lectures at home and abroad in which he linked his experiences in Hilversum and The Hague to the task of reconstruction. He spoke about three dimensions of urban design: the contrast between buildings and landscape, the contrast between the simplicity of housing and variety in special buildings, and the harmonious coherence between urban development and architecture. The latter dimension was a classic position that he and architect-urban planners H.P. Berlage and W.G. Witteveen shared. Dudok’s reconstruction plan and structure plan for The Hague (1945-1952), the reconstruction plan for Velsen (1945-1961) and the expansion plan for Zwolle (1947-1951) are examples of comprehensive urban designs.

Dudok’s classical design attitude, however, clashed with the view of post-war functionalists who assumed that it was impossible to have all dimensions designed by one architect-urban planner, because the task of reconstruction had become too complex due to its large scale. The functionalist urban planner was not an orchestra conductor, but a manager guided by statistics and forecasts for the future. The structure plan for The Hague and the reconstruction plan for Velsen therefore received strong criticism. As a result, Dudok left in The Hague, Velsen and Zwolle and that his designs were only partially or not at all executed.

The exhibition addresses the topicality of Dudok’s ideas. In the exhibition space of the DAC you can admire the iconic urban designs that are not only very beautiful, but also functional, full of character and hyper-contextual. In the middle of the room is a large work table that shows as many facets of the urban development field as possible; from fluent sketches, biased headlines, letters on precarious subjects to detailed presentation drawings. In the corridor of the town hall, Dudok’s urban designs for Hilversum can be seen, from the search for the best location for the new town hall to the plan for a modernized village center with high-rise buildings. No one will be able to fail to notice that the Hilversum termination plan from the 1930s has proven to be stable up to now. Dudok’s views on city and nature are again of great significance


Dudok Architectuur Centrum


The exhibition is open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 16:00. 


In combination with a visit to the exhibition The life and work of Dudok: € 4 per person. Children up to 12 years old: free (accompanied by an adult).

Extra information

A ticket to visit this exhibition also gives access to the exhibitions (location Tante Jans):

– Dudoks Traffic House built, demolished, rebuilt
– Hilversum Germinates
– NSF Radio, fascinating factory stories

and the exhibitions in the Dudok Architectuur Centrum:

– The life and work of architect Dudok
– Dudok by Iwan Baan 

website: sbddesign.nl