Hein Salomonson (1910-1994)

Canetti gave him another piece of advice after studying his handwriting at a meeting with friends devoted to aspects of the supernatural: Salomonson must leave his comfortable Vienna at once, go penniless into the world and prove himself. Bizarre, cryptic advice certainly, but nonetheless advice that Salomonson kept before his eyes throughout his life like a precious trophy and that had little to do with the later fame of his youthful acquaintance. It certainly had much to do with Salomonson’s great sensitivity for rhetorical formulae which suddenly, in one moment of magic, give an illusion of overwhelming clarity to the shape and direction of one’s life and work. What Canetti, in a mood of structural insight, might have been referring to was Salomonson’s undoubted tendency to aloofness, to pleasurable chit-chat on the sidelines, while on the field itself the most terrible and unsubtle things are happening. He had a pronounced `talent for getting on with difficult ladies’ as he himself recognized, so that a great deal of his work was devoted to designing luxury houses for ladies like these. These houses are amongst the most beautiful in postwar Dutch architecture: they are `a world of details’ (Aldo van Eyck) and Salomonson, in his brilliantly considered choice materials and detailing, taught `rich people to live simply’ (Sandberg).
But the idyll was fragile. The architectural envelope was perfect, which often put the harmony of family life into second place. What looked wonderful was actually irritating. Changes in use brought about by divorces and other causes regularly took its toll of his architecture. Salomonson was full of stories about the sad fate of his idylls; they didn’t last.
The day-to-day practice of his office was being busy with things of beauty. One day, just before the war, when he was working on his first house in Blaricum, he came across his colleague Eschauzier on the site. To his almost unbearable satisfaction he caught him in the act of stroking a window frame. Yet Eschauzier did not represent the society in which Salomonson ideally chose to move. For him it went without saying that he belonged with the Nieuwe Bouwen, with the likes of Merkelbach, Van Eesteren and Mart Stam. Although he felt himself to be `small fry’ in their company, he still came to the meetings of the `de 8′ group, even went once to a CIAM meeting and even took part in the legendary Nagele project. But he hardly opened his mouth. He was an observer. It was a relief when Van Eyck appeared on the scene: here at last was somebody who dared to talk about Ulysses and art in the presence of those materialistic apparatchiks Stam and Van Tijen. But Salomonson remained aloof, and so was not taken entirely seriously. On one side there was Van Eyck, who concluded incisively that Salomonson and his bosom friend Bodon were `pleasant chaps to take tea with’. On the other side was Stam who by some dialectic process reached the conclusion: `That Salomonson goes to concerts too often’. Van Eyck was nearer the truth than Stam, but the question still remains what on earth Salomonson was looking for in these surroundings, that he once in an unguarded moment described in metaphysical terms as `the only way’. Perhaps for him it was a church that he had outgrown but still did not want to leave: perhaps it was all nonsense, but always special nonsense. In the last years, ironically, it was noticeable here and there, particularly amongst older architects, how Salomonson came to be seen as architecture’s `conscience’: and that for an old hand in psychoanalytical matters who objected to conscience as `something that stops you doing what you want’.

Casa Malaparte: Architectuur in dienst van de verbeelding / Architecture in the service of the imagination