15 Apr 2021

During the Second World War (1940-1945) engineering firm DHV became an important partner in the central food supply strategy in the Netherlands. In Survival thanks to community kitchens, a special article, commissioned as part of our 140-year celebrations, we look back at how DHV survived the war thanks to perseverance, technical ingenuity and a well-tuned moral compass.

Shortly after the surrender of the Dutch army in May 1940, the National Agency for Food Supplies in Wartime decided that new kitchens for mass feeding had to be quickly built. An innovative cooking method based on steam, had been developed to hand out soup and stamppot in large quantities whilst keeping nutrition levels high. Civil-engineer Bastiaan Verhey, co-founder of engineering firm DHV was commissioned with the design and mass construction of 50 ‘hyper-efficient’ cooking and serving stations in 42 designated municipalities throughout the Netherlands. 

Erik Oostwegel, CEO Royal HaskoningDHV: ‘It’s no surprise that Bastiaan Verhey got the assignment. He maintained good relationships with former DHV-companion Arnold Groothoff, who by that time was a member of the national crisis-council in wartime. Verhey had already gained valuable experience in rapid and serial production of buildings for the Dutch artillery organization in 1938. So DHV was the most logical partner to go to.”  

Examples of standardised construction of community kitchens. Top left Amersfoort, top right Magelhaensplein in Amsterdam, bottom left Vlissingen, bottom right Dordrecht. None of these temporary buildings has survived. (source: Gaslaan Archief Eemland, Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Beeldbank Zeeland, Regionaal Archief Dordrecht)

Work started in August 1940. In three months Verhey and his colleagues managed to design, construct and deliver the first prototype community kitchen in Rotterdam. Oostwegel: “If the phrase ‘time-to-market is key’ had been in use back then, this would have been the perfect example!” 

Detail from the blueprint showing the original standard kitchen (source: Afdeling Bouwbureau Massavoeding Amersfoort, Nationaal Archief)

After delivering the prototype, the contract for a complete series of community kitchens followed. Verhey designed two standard versions: ‘for the distribution of food to 4,000 or 6,000 persons respectively’. The work led to all kinds of follow up assignments, such as converting garages, cinema’s and even churches into workplace kitchens. 

Erik Oostwegel: “Despite deteriorating conditions, our ancestors were able to continue operations, thanks to perseverance, good relationship management and smart engineering. But most valuable of all is of course the fact that by designing and constructing these community kitchens DHV contributed to providing food for those who needed it most.” 



140 years of inspiring stories so far

In 2021 we’re celebrating 140 years of operation. To mark this, we are treating you to nine great stories from our archives. 

After introducing our founding fathers Johan van Hasselt and Jacobus de Koning, who set up the first independent engineering firm in the Netherlands in 1881, we followed De Koning as he travelled to Egypt in 1889 to design a railway bridge across the Nile. The third story about Heederik, Heineken, Dwars and Verhey describes the events that led to the start of DHV. Our fourth story Survival thanks to community kitchens shows how DHV played an important role in the Dutch food supply strategy during WWII.