Heritage of the Week | The old court

Zuidas is known as a popular office location. By 2030, more than 1 million m2 of offices, homes and facilities will have been developed here. Until the 1960s, however, here was a green recreational area, including sports fields. One of the first office buildings established here in 1969-1975, thereby encouraging the use of an office space, was the High Court in the later Parnas complex.

The architect, Ben Loerakker (1931-2021), worked continuously for almost 30 years on the complex, which was realized in 3 construction phases during this period. The Parnas complex has an interesting history and many surprises. High-profile trials have also taken place, such as the trial of Geert Wilders and the handling of the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn. It’s high time to take a look inside this monument!

The High Court established itself as one of the first office buildings in the area we now call Zuidas. † Photo: Archive for spatial planning: photo section B (August 1973), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000034404).

concrete barrel

“The geometric layout, the treatment of the concrete and the shape of the steel windows (especially the corner windows) and finally the way in which the whole building appears to have been lifted from the ground give the whole a character and a unity that I greatly admire.”

It wrote the former director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and also one of the building’s neighbors, Willem Sandberg, in a letter to the architects. The Parnas complex has never been captivated by a single architectural movement, but structuralism and brutalism can still be recognized today. Brutalism, based on the French term ‘concrete brut’, is clearly reflected in the use of exposed concrete. For example, architect Loerakker chose to make the wooden formwork visible in the concrete and reliefs can be seen in some concrete slabs. This creates a rough surface that seems soft at a distance. These different operations were not only intended to be ‘decorative’, but also indicate the different functions of the rooms. When it opened in 1975, the building was jokingly mentioned in the newspapers as the ‘concrete right’ due to the extensive use of this material.

When it opened in 1975, the building was jokingly referred to in the newspapers as the 'concrete right' due to its extensive use of concrete.  † Source: 'CONCRETE RIGHT'. When it opened in 1975, the building was jokingly referred to in the newspapers as the ‘concrete right’ due to its extensive use of concrete. † Source: ‘CONCRETE RIGHT’. “The Free People: Democratic-Socialist Daily”. Rotterdam, 24-06-1975, p. 3. Heard of Delpher on 05-07-2022.

Detail photos of the different finishes of the concrete: shrubs hammered to the left, to the right with imprints of the wooden structure of the unplaned parts of the formwork.  † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam.Detail photos of the different finishes of the concrete: shrubs hammered to the left, to the right with imprints of the wooden structure of the unplaned parts of the formwork. † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam.

Visible construction

The construction of the building is thus left clearly visible. In addition, a lot of natural materials were used, such as natural stone on the floor and clear lacquered wooden railings. The building has many original eye-catching details, such as spherical lamps reminiscent of street lighting, an original telephone box and the wall art by Joost van Rooijen. Under the visual arts percentage scheme, this artist made 40 wall coverings that can be found throughout the building. The carpets are an integral part of the building. In addition to adding something extra to the room, they also provide soundproofing.

Details of the interior, such as the telephone box with tapestries behind.  † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam / Monuments and Archeology.Details of the interior, such as the telephone box with tapestries behind. † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam / Monuments and Archeology.

Architect (s)

Initially, the architectural group Verster Dijkstra was given the task by Cannegieter to prepare a draft for the city court. This design was rejected. After a few years, the agency got another chance and decided to award the contract to Ben Loerakker. His sketch design was received positively, he was given the task and thus a partnership in the office, which at the time was called Verster Dijkstra Loerakker.

Zeeburgerstraat housing construction, another design by architect Loerakker, from 1977. |  Photo: JM Arsath Ro'is (July 24, 1979), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122025667).Zeeburgerstraat housing construction, another design by architect Loerakker, from 1977. | Photo: JM Arsath Ro’is (July 24, 1979), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122025667).

Structure and human dimension

During his career as an architect, Loerakker has worked on various projects, including RAI, the center of Almere-Stad and the housing construction on Zeeburgerstraat. However, the complex on Parnassusweg was his biggest task. Structure and the human dimension formed the basis of all his designs. The column and beam structure of the Parnas complex is designed on a lattice of 6 and 4 meters, alternating with zones of 2 meters in between. The 8 courtrooms of 10 (2 + 6 + 2) meters wide and 16 (2 + 6 + 6 + 2) meters deep fit into this system. The hallways are each 4 meters wide.

Repeated sizes can also be recognized in the central hall.  † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam.Repeated sizes can also be recognized in the central hall. † Photos: Open Monument Day Amsterdam.

Another starting point for Loerakker’s design was that the judges’ and the audience’s walking routes were separate, but that the visitors got an impression of the state of affairs in the judiciary. The individual footbridges are clearly visible from the central hall for both the audience and the judges.

Underground

One last detail of the Parnas complex that should not remain unnamed is the underground emergency seat that was located here for years. Built against the backdrop of the Cold War, this basement allowed the Amsterdam-based government services to continue their necessary work in times of a possible nuclear war. The emergency seat was demolished in 2017.

Back and side wall of Cantonal Court.  † Photo: JM Arsath Ro'is (April 27, 1976), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122004388).Back and side wall of Cantonal Court. † Photo: JM Arsath Ro’is (April 27, 1976), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122004388).

Opened!

During the Open Monument Day Amsterdam on 10 and 11 September, the Oude Rechtbank can be visited! Be overwhelmed by the central hall and be amazed by special stories about the building. For example, a former judge will arrange a series of guided tours over the weekend. The cells under the courtrooms will also be open to visitors. Due to the many graffiti, the legal history and the history of the criminals suddenly becomes very tangible. Welcome to September!

The old court on Parnassusweg.  † Photo: Jan Vonk (2021), Zuidas billedbank.The old court on Parnassusweg. † Photo: Jan Vonk (2021), Zuidas billedbank.

Heritage of the Week

Each week, the Heritage of the Week section focuses on a particular archaeological find, site, object, monumental building or historic site in the city. Via the website amsterdam.nl/erfgoed, Twitter @ arv020 and Facebook Monuments and Archeology, the cultural heritage experts in Monuments and Archeology share the city’s heritage with Amsterdamers and other interested parties.

Banner photo: Interior of the Parnas complex. † Photo: Doriann Kransberg (2010), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (D10134003252).

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