What have I seen in the Netherlands? A nation bent on constructing an industrious and sensible serenity. Content that architecture be simple, square, firm, becuase the opposing impulses (sex, death) are already there in the rippling water of the endless urban canals.
Because water will always destroy right angles, whether in the shimmering instant of reflection or the grinding eternity of subsidence.
When architecture just to the south was exploding with riotous embellishment, the Protestant Dutch picked up a few pleasant curved lines just at the roof, nothing to take too seriously. While the endless filagrees and trumpeting heralds on a Hapsburg roofline announced the stability and glory of the imperial power, the Dutch could announce their power in sheer restraint. At home on tenuous land that is always sinking unevenly beneath them, the Dutch saw no higher sign of God's favor than a house that wasn't slowly leaning into the street, and whose windows were still square.
Even modernist architecture in Holland saw beauty in the right angle, where other modernisms saw only the barren chill of truth. I am a tough customer for modernism, but the Dutch do some of the world's best. Almost every modernist building shows some touch -- a color, a pattern, a too-perfect ratio -- that speaks of attention and caring.
In the postmodern age, of course, the Dutch know this about themselves. An eruptive organic form, such as this cetacean bus shelter in Hoofddorp, is the rule-proving exception.
It's as though Dutch modernist architects are aspiring alchemists, certain that somewhere in mathematical space is a rectangular solid whose ratios will so please God that he will give it the breath of transcendence. They come close, over and over, as mortals do.
It's the right angle that creates the space of Holland's famous tolerance. The French say they're tolerant too, but Frenchness is such a curved and nuanced space that it's a life's work for the newcomer to fit it, to turn the key that will unlock the bounties of fraternité. In Holland the key is simple: the right angle, the rectangular space, the blank solid. It's the sort of simplicity that demands only meditation and work. If it seems constraining, just look down, at its reflection in the water, and watch it dissolve.