‘One of the major pitfalls for an architect is to be commissioned to design a town hall.’ This is the first line of an article by architecture critic A. Buffinga entitled ‘Een bundeltje nieuwe raadhuizen’ (A bunch of new town halls) in a 1964 edition of Bouw (Building). Hengelo’s new town hall figured among twelve recently completed town halls, and was reviewed in positive terms. 'The construction of Hengelo town hall provides that town with a point of focus which was heretofore lacking. The volume is adequate in the context of the function, location and size of the town.’ However, some press reports were decidedly less enthusiastic. Art editor K. Wiekart wrote in a 1963 edition of the monthly newsmagazine Vrij Nederland: ‘Hengelo’s new town hall. Why is the government so wide off the mark so often?’ Wiekart called the building a block with anachronistic elements, and he was under the impression that architect Berghoef regarded Hengelo as a not very sophisticated town, where a modern building would have been out of place.
Such criticisms have died down. Since 2007, Hengelo town hall has been listed as a municipal monument and in 2013 it gained the status of a potential national monument. Later generations of architects and architecture historians have dissociated themselves from the generation struggle between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’, and are once again focusing on the ideas underlying a building, its relationship with the location and the role of decoration and ornaments. The varying reactions at the time are nevertheless understandable. Hengelo town hall cannot be properly interpreted at a glance. In many aspects it is an un-Dutch building as far as its appearance as well as the ideas on democracy and transparency included in the lay out are concerned. The ambition behind the realisation of the building is apparent from, for example, the architectural tour to Scandinavia undertaken in 1951 by architect Berghoef together with the Municipal Executive and some members of the council.
The heritage assessment in respect of the town hall starts with the broader context: the urban development around Hengelo’s town square and the reconstruction plan in which the new town hall played such an important part. In addition, it examines postwar ideas regarding the design of town halls, illustrated by references of (inter)national town halls that Berghoef used for inspiration, and it documents the building’s various design phases. The third chapter of the assessment examines the position of the town hall within Berghoef’s oeuvre, and the other town halls (Wieringerwerf, Aalsmeer) that he designed in the same period.
The main principles underlying the design are presented by means of so-called ‘core values’. These values are centrality, democracy, functionality, representation and flexibility. On the basis of these conceptions, the discussion on the restoration of this ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ will gain in depth, and the argumentation that will ensue will be deserving of this extraordinary building, more than would be the case if based on of traditional value maps per floor. In relation to other post war town halls, Hengelo’s town hall has remained comparably intact, and hardly any irreversible alterations have taken place. Nevertheless there is some room for improvement, particularly in respect of the entrance and the routing. In the chapter ‘Qualities and bottlenecks’, the positive as well as the negative aspects that have served as input for the conclusions and the cultural history agenda are brought into focus.