During research for the exhibition ‘Living in the Amsterdam School’ curators of the Stedelijk Museum did extensive research into the City Archives. A folder with 94 drawings of Scheepvaarthuis (Shipping House) sheds a new light on the origins of the architecture. The Shipping House was the first major building in the Amsterdam School style, which was ‘born’ exactly one hundred years ago, and on that occasion the style got its name. The drawings give more insight into the roles of architects Joan Melchior van der Mey, Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk.
Early last century, six leading shipping companies were about to give a very prestigious order for a large communal building near Amsterdam Central Station. The contract was awarded in August 1912 to the relatively young architect Joan Melchior van der Mey, then 34 years old. For this great job, he put together a team at a later stage, with among others the architects Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk, who were younger than himself, and whose drawing talents he gratefully took in advantage.
In the folder with 94 drawings it is easy to read and the cooperation of the triumvirate and the role that each had in it. In addition, the folder contains designs for interior components, and there were virtually no examples known. On the majority of the drawings an indication or sketch by Van der Mey, while the working drawings can usually be attributed to De Klerk. On one study sheet one can find furniture sketches of both De Klerk and Van der Mey, with instructions on a floorplan and detailed sketches. This indicates that the designers did not take a separate component on their behalf, but really the three of them worked together to the total project.
Unique in the folder is the design for a large carpet with a striking design, for the boardroom of Stoomvaart-Maatschappij Nederland (SMN) on the second floor of The Shipping House. Until now, there was nothing known about this remarkable design, and since its completion in 1916 no author has written a thing about it. Initially it was thought that perhaps it was a design by Michel de Klerk, as he also designed furniture for the space. A drawing in the ‘weaving notebook’ of Mrs Van der Mey however, shows that this carpet design is by her husband. Sarah van der Mey followed her first weaving lessons in Copenhagen in 1908, and then she wove on commission many rugs. On the found drawing, which will be included in the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, shows that Van der Mey consulted Sarah to explain how this particular carpet had to be practically translated. The fact that Van der Mey worked on the design of the carpet shows once again the close cooperation with De Klerk and Kramer, in particular, this specific space in The Shipping House, for which the two other architects made designs.
A study sheet attributed with design sketches to Michel de Klerk shows a colored round table. This may have been the basis for a very good table from circa 1918 possibly designed by De Klerk and was made by furniture manufactory ‘t Woonhuys. Both the study sheet and the oval table will be in the exhibition at Stedelijk Museum.
Very different is the addition of a female portrait in profile at the right part of a page of drawings. This is probably the great love of De Klerk, Lea Jessurun who, just as he, worked in the architectural firm of Eduard Cuypers, where Leah worked until her marriage with De Klerk in 1910.