During my first trip to Amsterdam, I shopped at de Bijenkorf, the city’s equivalent of Nordstrom’s: understated high end retail.
The Amsterdam store is just off the Damrak and not far from H. P. Berlage’s famous Stock Exchange. The building itself isn’t much, but company stores in some other Dutch cities are more notable. In Den Haag, for example, it’s an “Amsterdam School” design by Piet Kramer [see below] and the store in Rotterdam is post-war, replacing one destroyed by allied bombing, I suppose. Even that store is worth your attention, as a rare commercial design by Marcel Breuer.
Several years ago we had an AFS exchange student living with us for a year — Tjipke Okkema, from the Netherlands — so one day I asked naïvely what “de Bijenkorf” meant, thinking it might be a family name. Chip looked at me with mild disbelief: “It means bee hive [you ninny!]” [He didn’t add that past part.] Not only did that make sense conceptually — a department store is, after all, a hive of individual shops — but it also made sense of Breuer’s relatively windowless box in Rotterdam’s, which is clad in hexagonal precast panels.
[Incidentally, the Breuer building in Rotterdam replaced the earlier building which had been designed by Willem Dudok! A whole seminar could be built around De Bijenkorf’s architectural history.]
Perhaps it was the Dutch colony at Pella, Iowa that encouraged me to imagine the department store in Agincourt [there are Varenhorsts nearby at Storm Lake]; perhaps the beguiling “IJ” ligature in the Dutch language as a substitute for “Y.” I’d already created a men’s haberdashery run by an emigrant Hungarian named Sandor Szolnay. Working with Mark Roelofs, one of the first to play in the sandbox and himself of Dutch ancestry, the course was set.
The de Bijenkorf enterprise would serve several purposes: #1) It’s arrival and evolution made more sense on the “wrong” side of town, south of The Square on Broad Street, where two or perhaps three pre-existing late Victorian stores could be acquired and adapted; #2) the adjacent Blenheim Hotel created the opportunity for a link across Adams Alley, a link that could reinforce the notion of alley culture; and #3) the disparate exteriors of de Bijenkorf’s multiple buildings might generate a 1920s remodeling to unify their jumbled styles into a cohesive corporate image. Oh, and #4) I could also use it to simulate the character of an arcade.
If the topic hasn’t already been beaten to death, this is the way the Agincourt Project works.