Celebrating Rietveld

Rietveld-Schröder HuisMost people familiar with architect/designer Gerrit Rietveld know his famous Rietveld-Schröder House, which was De Stijl made 3D. The principles of the art movement were brought to life in this unique home located just outside the old city center of Utrecht.

The iconic house was hardly the only building in Utrecht that Rietveld worked on, though. In fact, he was involved in a number of buildings right in the heart of the historic center. I’ve mentioned the building at Vredenburg, which was once a bioscoop/cinema, as well as Rietveld’s own home. However, he also worked on the renovation/facades of two buildings on the chic shopping street Oudkerkhof.

The first is Oudkerkhof 27, the white building in the photo, which bears the distinction of being Rietveld’s first architectural assignment. He designed the shopfront for jeweller Cornelis Begeer. Particularly noticeable are the almost ornate, decorative details above the windows and on the supporting columns. The renovation was done in 1919, which fits the look of the decorative figures, who seem to fall between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Strictly Rietveld

Although this early building is a far cry from his later, more minimalist work, the building materials and construction do relate to his later work, such as the Chauffeur’s House. This jeweller’s shop project made use of an early type of prefabrication, which fit with many of Rietveld’s later construction ideals. Much of the facade was constructed in concrete in advance, based on a wooden mould.

A few years later, in 1924, Rietveld would remodel the Wessels & Zoon leather store shopfront just a few doors down at Oudkerkhof 15. The project involved uniting two separate building fronts into one unified ground level. With this project, we begin to see more of the characteristic Rietveld designs.
Wessels & Zn.
The Rietveld design was altered in 1950 to move the entrance to the middle, rather than the far right where he originally placed it. His design created a two-meter-high/eight-meter-wide front glass display, which was framed in bright blue and appears to be separate from the rest of the building. There was also a concrete beam at the center of the facade, which stuck out 50 centimeters. The ghost of that projecting beam remains, but now seems to be flush with the grey horizontal lintel. The now-grey lintel originally featured the name Wessels en Zoon in a font designed by Rietveld. The whole facade uses structural elements in a stylistic way to create a three-dimensional design that is both functional and visually interesting.

Here is what Rietveld’s original design looked like.
Rietveld Wessels en Zoon
(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

All of this is my way of saying “Gefeliciteerd“, since Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born here in Utrecht 125 years ago today, 24 June 1888. For more information about all of Rietveld’s building projects throughout the Netherlands, check out the Rietveld architecture app.

4 thoughts on “Celebrating Rietveld

    • It was great when I first realized there were so many more of his buildings actually in the city, not to mention all of the others spread throughout the country.

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