Mindful Preservation Saves Early Modern Landmark

Mindful Preservation Saves Early Modern Landmark

Zonnestraal Sanatorium after renovations by Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten.
Courtesy WMF

The World Monuments Fund has named Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten the recipients of the 2010 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize for the restoration and rehabilitation of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands, a complex of delicate concrete-and-glass structures with an elegant glazed tower.

Designed in 1926–1928 by Johannes Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet and completed in 1931, the sanatorium is considered a seminal work of early modernism. Though it was well known when it was built, the structure was eventually abandoned, and since then nearly subsumed by the surrounding landscape. Portions of the three-building complex were almost completely lost, so many parts of the sanatorium had to be meticulously reconstructed, including formerly mass-produced elements that had to be recreated by hand.

The abandoned Zonnestraal Sanatorium was in very poor condition before restoration.

“The prize recognizes projects that are completed through a heroic effort,” said Henry Ng, executive vice president at the World Monuments Fund. Projects, which are solicited through an open call, are evaluated for their architectural significance, the urgency of the project’s plight, and the success and practicality of the solution. According to Ng, the architects directed a careful restoration, while simultaneously devising adaptation and funding strategies that would make the project succeed over the long term. “They crafted a practical and sustainable solution that was also programmatically possible,” he said.

Much of the complex is again being used for medical facilities. In addition, the Zonnestraal project is important not only for its architectural significance, but also for its pivotal role in the preservation of modernism. The project grew out of a cultural resources survey and preservation plan, which eventually led firm principals Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge to found Docomomo.

Restoration efforts that saved the Zonnestraal Sanatorium were described as "heroic" by the World Monuments Fund.

Jurors for the prize include chair Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art; Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia; Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University; Dietrich Neumann, professor of the history of art and architecture at Brown; Theo Prudon, president of Docomomo U.S., and writer, teacher, and critic Karen Stein.

“Now that Hubert-Jan Henket’s and Wessel de Jonge’s stabilization work on the restoration is complete, it reconfirms Zonnestraal’s standing as one of the most experimental designs in the fervently creative decades of modernism between the two world wars,” Bergdoll said in a statement. “It is at once a beacon of Dutch rationalism and a major work of modern architecture internationally, one that can now be experienced in a way that resonates with its architect’s intentions.”

View a slideshow of of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium before and after restoration at the AN Blog.


This is the second time the biennial prize has been awarded, which, according to Ng, is meant to highlight the role architects play in modern preservation. “The preservation of modernism often requires the knowledge and advocacy of architects,” he noted. The winners will receive a $10,000 award and a Barcelona chair.