Peace Palace

Built

1913

Location

The Hague
Peace Palace, The Hague, in 1913. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection

Knowing what was to happen in 1914, the opening of a building to promote peace a year earlier may seem almost laughable to us today, but is an indication of the desire for world peace that existed in the early 20th century. A century ago, on 6th August 1913, the Architects’ and Builders’ Journal reported in scathing terms about the  Peace Palace  at The Hague, Netherlands, weeks before it was to open: " If this be the utmost effort which the idea of peace can bring forth from the architects of the world, it augurs ill for Peace or for Architecture"  (1). It lambasted the backward-looking nature of the style chosen, describing it as " bastard Gothic".

Generously funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the aim of the Peace Palace was to be a neutral ground for different peoples and nations, with a Permanent Court of Arbitration to settle disputes between them.

On 16 June 1906, even before construction began, the  Builder was already criticising the proposed site outside the city centre and questioning if it would ever be built at all (2). The periodical asked: " What should be the style of a Peace Palace?"  Ideally something universal that would be relevant to all nations. To the  Builder , the local 16th-century style proposed by Louis-Marie Cordonnier, architect of the winning design, seemed unsuitable in a modern world and for the international nature of the work that would be conducted inside the palace.

If this be the utmost effort which the idea of peace can bring forth from the architects of the world, it augurs ill for Peace or for Architecture

The criticism of the building was not surprising considering the international competition to design it, which attracted 217 entries, had been mishandled and the choice of winner left few satisfied (3). Throughout June 1906, the  Builder  described and published illustrations of some of the designs. Despite a boycott, some notable and innovative architects did enter, but entrants such as Eliel Saarinen and Otto Wagner did not win. Wagner achieved fourth place in the competition and his design was described as showing “ a great deal of originality ”, being harmonious and in a new style (4).

Building the palace wasn’t easy and there were budget problems. The winner was announced in 1906 and the foundation stone laid in 1907. Work was delayed by legal disputes, and the official opening only took place on 28 August 1913 (5). A new building and a few months of work could not easily have undone the signed treaties, secret alliances and imperial ambitions already in place that led to World War I a year later. What this building has successfully done after the war, is to be a place to resolve disagreements and at various times as home to parts of the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations.

Louis-Marie Cordonnier’s winning design in 1906 for the Peace Palace. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection Peace Palace, The Hague, in 1913. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection Otto Wagner’s design for the Peace Palace, 1906. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection

References (available from the  British Architectural Library , RIBA):

  1. Architects’ and Builders’ Journal, 6 August 1913, vol.38, pp.126-8
  2. Builder , 16 June 1906, vol.90, pp.663-6
  3. Architects’ and Builders’ Journal , 6 August 1913, vol.38, pp.126-8
  4. Builder , 16 June 1906, vol.90, pp.663-6
  5. Building News , 29 August 1913, vol.105, p.312

Article by Wilson Yau,   British Architectural Library , RIBA    

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