The Peace Palace is a remarkable building. By Dutch standards it is a building of uncommon grandeur and a very recognizable sight in the City of The Hague. On 15 August 1905 the “Programme of the Competition for the Architectural Plan of the Peace Palace for the use of the Permanent Court of Arbitration with a Library” was sent out all over the world. The competition was open to all. On the closing day, 15 April 1906, no less than 216 plans had been submitted, covering a total of more than 3.000 drawings.
The laying of the foundation
After the area of estate Zorgvliet (founded in the 17th century by country lawyer and writer J. Cats) of 6.5 hectares was prepared for construction, there could be started laying the foundation of concrete by the contractor Nollen & Heymerink from The Hague. The entire basement, built of brick and granite, was completed in May 1909. For the manufacture and supply of hand-molded bricks, the brick factory 'Elderly' from Leiderdorp had been commissioned.
The Peace Palace opened its gates in 1913, after six years of construction. It is a large, square-shaped building with a plinth of grey Belgian natural stone and facades of Dutch red bricks in a combined neo-renaissance style. It has sloping slate roofs, two different towers and a west wing facade similar in quality to the front facade.
Embodiment of an idea
Due to its location, size and architectural quality, the Peace Palace is by Dutch standards a building of uncommon grandeur and that was precisely the intention. This project was not just about housing a judicial organisation; it was about the embodiment of an idea. What the Court lacked in authority as an international judicial institution in the early years, was more than compensated for by the formidable character, the artistic furnishings and exuberant symbolism of its housing. The Peace Palace fitted perfectly with the dream of world peace as cherished by the First Hague Peace Conference. After its completion, it was hailed as a true dream palace for world peace, "just as powerful and grand as the idea of world peace itself’", to quote a Dutch writer of the time.
Much discussed design competition
The Peace Palace might easily have looked very different from its present appearance. On 15 August 1905 the “Programme of the Competition for the Architectural Plan of the Peace Palace for the use of the Permanent Court of Arbitration with a Library” was sent out all over the world. The competition was open to all. On the closing day, 15 April 1906, no less than 216 plans had been submitted, covering a total of more than 3.000 drawings.
The jury selected six winners from the many designs with two traditional French architects as front-runners. Louis Cordonnier won the first prize. The selection and final proposal of the jury in favour of Cordonnier led to the fiercest and last great architecture debate in Dutch history before the breakthrough of modernism in the 20th century. Politicians, architects and members of the public contested each others’ taste, or lack thereof, for months on end. The innovators lost, although the subsequent changes to Cordonnier’s design offered some compensation.