Modern Stripes in an Old Neighborhood

Old and New
The first time I wandered into Pieterskerkhof, a cul-de-sac-like area next to one of the churches in town, my eye was drawn immediately to this unusually modern, striped building set amid a wealth of traditional Dutch brick homes and buildings. I was dying to know more about it and see what it looked like behind those atypical stripes and smooth forms.

Eventually, I came across a mention of this building, known as the Van Schijndel House. Over the years, the home has occasionally been opened to the public as part of a few special tours, particularly on the annual Architecture Day organized by AORTA. Yet year after year, I’ve managed to miss this day and particularly this tour. This year is no different; it was just shy of two weeks ago.

Since it seems I am never going to see inside with my own eye, I can be grateful that local writer and architecture enthusiast Arjan Den Boer recently wrote an informative article on the house. It is in Dutch, but you can get the gist of a lot of it using Google Translate, if you’re interested. I highly recommend clicking through to the article so that you can see some of the interior photos. It’s a stunning mix of light, space, and unusual angles, not to mention a few of my favorite Utrecht chairs by Rietveld.

To sum up briefly, architect Mart van Schijndel bought the property in 1988. At the time the buildings were being used as a garage and a graphics studio, though much of the entire closed-off neighborhood was in a questionable state of repair, with junkies hanging out in back corners and cars still being parked in the various garages. In the past, many of the buildings had served as coach houses for the more wealthy homes along the Kromme Nieuwegracht canal nearby. (The linked article has a photo of the buildings from 1974.)

Van Schijndel was a post-modern architect, but he appreciated classical architecture and included some light-hearted references to more traditional architecture, including the pediment. In fact, the building is really more modern than postmodern.

The focus seems to be on light and air with glass walls and open spaces, though you almost never look out at the city, only up to the sky. There are two patios to ensure there is always one to be enjoyed, no matter the time of day. There are also no purely white walls, though they may appear white at first glance. All have different tints to make the most of the light they receive throughout the day. Even the ceiling has a tint of red to capture the summer evening atmosphere.

The interior cabinets, doors and other features were just as carefully designed as the overall structure of the building. It’s no surprise that it won the Rietveld Award in 1995. Sadly, Van Schijndel died in 1999, but his wife, Natascha Drabbe, an architecture historian, remained. She has worked to preserve her late husband’s architectural heritage and does organize lectures, tours, publications, and has set up an international network of Iconic Houses, of which the Rietveld-Schroëder House is naturally a member.

The house and the architect’s stunning vision will live on. In 1999, the home was named a municipal monument, the youngest such monument in the country. It does seem that there are now tours by appointment on the first Sunday of every month. If you’re interested, you can contact info@vanschijndelhuis.nl. Maybe I’ll manage to see the inside of the house yet!
Mix and Match

 

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This is Rietveld

Gerrit Thomas Reitveld was born on this day, 24 June 1888, here in Utrecht. The son of a joiner, he would go on to become a world-famous architect, designer, and principal player in the development of De Stijl artistic movement.

In celebration of his birthday, I thought I’d share a few (okay, probably a lot of) photos of his work. Although you can find numerous works of his on display at the Centraal Museum here in Utrecht, you can see a wide array of his architectural works here in Utrecht and throughout the country, and you’ll often be surprised when you learn it’s a Rietveld.
This is a Rietveld
Side View
… but this white building is also a Rietveld.
Oudkerkhof
This is a Rietveld
Chauffeur's House 65.365
… and this is a Rietveld. He even lived on the upper floor for a while.
Colourful Rietveld
These are all Rietveld.
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Take a Seat
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Rietveld Steltman Chair
Lego My Chair
These are also Rietveld:
Warm Glow
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Even this is Rietveld:
Van Gogh Museum

As always, it’s a joy to celebrate the birthday of this tremendously talented artist and native of Utrecht.

What do you get for the 894th anniversary?

Icon
It’s that time of year again. Utrecht is celebrating its 894th year as an official city. On June 2, 1122, Keizer Henrik V officially recognized Utrecht as a city. (Of course, Utrecht’s history goes back much further. The Roman fortifications date back to around 50 CE, and people may have inhabited the area during the Stone Age, going back to 2200 BCE.)

There are usually some festivities each year. I think the ones this year are more about family history. However, throughout the year, you can find a marker along the Oudegracht commemorating the event.
stadsdag
In honor of 894 years as a city, I thought I’d post a few photos of some of my favorite, unique places that make it such a wonderful city.
Urban Invasion
Nijntje
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
Cathedral Art
Grachtenrace ronDom
Autumn on the Oudegracht
Brug
Rietveld-Schröder Huis [Day 281/365]
Stadhuisbrug
Soaring
Winkel van Sinkel
Paushuize

Ghost in the Sunshine
Views from Neudeflat

My Utrecht Art Collection

Utrecht Kunst
It should come as no surprise that I have a fondness for old photos of Utrecht and contemporary art inspired by the city. Over the past few years, I’ve been creating my own little collection. I don’t have as much as I would like, but I do have a list of artists and images I hope to add some day. For now, though, I have a small gallery wall that makes me happy.

The large print on the right was one of my first pieces. I’d seen it on Pinterest first, actually, but couldn’t find any info about it at the time (one of the drawbacks of the site). Eventually, though, I found the print itself at one of the local art stores and couldn’t resist. It’s a great collection of Utrecht symbols including lovely Lepelenburg Park, the Willibrord statue, Broodje Mario, the train station, and one of Rietveld’s chairs. What’s not to love?

To the left is an old print of the Paushuiz as it originally looked before the additions. Beneath that is the first print I bought from Ellessi at one of the Christmas markets. I just fell in love with her style. That day, I’d seen the next print to the left, on the top, but hadn’t had enough money with me to get it. The next time she was in town at one of the markets, I went specifically to get it. It’s a view of one of the cafés at the Donkere Gaard, as seen from another café that I frequent from time to time. Beneath that is another old print of the Oudegracht and the old crane that used to stand by the Winkel van Sinkel. Tucked in the corner is one of my own small photos that I have a fondness for.

The small picture on the bottom left is an antique postcard of the Breyerskameren, a view I get daily, as it’s across the canal from the park where we’ve taken our dogs over the years.

And on the top far left is my first print from L-Tuziasm. He’s a local artist I’ve written about previously. I absolutely love his work and hope to purchase one of his paintings some day. Each year, though, he does a limited print of the Domtoren. This was the first one I was able to get. However, I recently added a second one, the most recent one he’s done.

I had requested my copy, but a while later he contacted me to work out a barter. He was putting together a catalogue of some of his work and wanted to include an English translation. I helped him with that in exchange for the print (and a copy of the catalogue). Awesome deal! I might need another print before I can hang it, in order to get things balanced. For now, it’s sitting happily beneath the gallery wall, with one of my own photos and a few odds and ends.
Utrecht Kunst

Rietveld Gets the Last Laugh

Rietveld-Schröder Huis [Day 281/365]
This is the Rietveld-Schröder House.

Street Life with Art
This is the viaduct that runs directly next to it. (I always wave when we drive over it.)
photo by Carlien Laarmen
(Photo courtesy of Carlien Laarmen)
This is the viaduct today. It’s a fairly low clearance and it would seem that the driver of the Albert Heijn (grocery store chain) delivery van didn’t judge the heights well. The driver wasn’t hurt, but the van sure took a beating. A peeled-back can of sardines comes to mind.

The building of the viaduct, which ruined the view and the intentional openness of the space, wasn’t exactly appreciated by all (particularly Rietveld himself), but at least they’ve since decorated it to acknowledge Rietveld’s work. But as Caroline on Twitter pointed out, Rietveld is probably laughing in his grave.

18 Things to See, Do, Taste, and Experience in Utrecht

klmmapI’m always singing the praises of Utrecht and encouraging people to visit this beautiful, historic, and vibrant city, so it only seems right that I make a handy map of some of the places and things visitors should see. So here’s a map of 18 places in Utrecht that you should see, including museums, sculptures, parks, restaurants (which, of course, includes Vino Veritas), and historic points of interest. It is, by no means, a complete listing and hopefully I’ll be able to add on to it as the spirit moves me. Did I leave out one of your favorite must-see spots in Utrecht? Tell me what you think is a must-see.

Thanks to KLM for doing the technical creation of this map for me, while letting me use my own words and photos. They were kind enough to let me focus on Utrecht, instead of Amsterdam, after I pointed out how quick and easy it is to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam. Fly into Schipol Airport with KLM and hop on one of the many trains to Utrecht. You’ll be here in just half an hour!

Rietveld Chairs on Display at the Centraal Museum

Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenIn December of last year, the Centraal Museum was able to purchase the Prototype Low Chair (center) by Gerrit Rietveld’s at a Sotheby’s auction. The iron chair, which dates to c.1946-1950/52, was an experimentation by Rietveld in working with metal, using some of the techniques he had worked out in his usual use of molded plywood. Although the chairs go for large prices these days, they, like the designs by Ray and Charles Eames, were meant to be affordable through easy construction.

The Low Chair was one of a series of chairs that Rietveld exhibited in Denmark in the early years after World War II, and it was this exhibition that led to the overall design of the chairs being known as Danish chairs. The technical drawings for the Low Chair suggest that it was intended to be massproduced, but in the end, that particular design was not manufactured. However, the Danish chairs (the two flanking chairs in the photo) were produced.Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
The Prototype Low Chair was recently put on display at the Centraal Museum, and having read the news stories about the purchase, it was nice to get to see the chair in person. It’s on display in a small room often dedicated to one or two individual Rietveld pieces.

However, there’s another room in the museum, the Van Baaren Zaal (Van Baaren Gallery), which features additional examples of Rietveld’s furniture designs. Amid the paintings in the room, which were collected by the Van Baaren family, the museum has placed examples of some of Rietveld’s furniture. The simple, modern shapes form an interesting contrast to the often traditional paintings in the collection. Take for instance, two variations of Rietveld’s Zigzag Chair that sit amid portraits and florals.Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenOther pieces currently on display include a sideboard/buffet piece that I am particularly fond of and would love to own a reproduction of someday. There are also additional chairs, and even a child’s wagon on display. Although only a small sampling of Rietveld’s work, it’s a nice selection of pieces.Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenGerrit Rietveld Meubelen
The Prototype Low Chair is on display until 13 April 2014. You can see all of the pieces in situ in this video from the Centraal Museum (in Dutch).

Drawing with Light on the Rietveld-Schröder House

The Light-UP Collective is a group of artists here in Utrecht — including L-Tuziasm — who do fascinating things with light and projections. Essentially, they draw with light, using tablets, beamers, and their own in-house software fantastically named Happytron. Large or small, their projects aren’t just limited to the artists of the collective. They often have audience members get involved, as well. Nor is their work limited to Utrecht, they are involved in events all over the country.

However, it seems they did do some work here in Utrecht recently. Specifically, they took a trip to the Rietveld-Schröder House to work their light magic on the famous home. Have a look!

 

The Rietveld Steltman Chair

Rietveld Steltman Chair
A number of people visit my blog on a regular basis after searching for “Rietveld chairs”. Although I usually talk more about his architecture, I do have a few posts about his chairs. I saw examples of most, if not all, of them during the special Rietveld Year exhibit at the Centraal Museum, but it’s always nice to come across them individually, even as part of another exhibit at the museum.

That’s what happened Friday when I visited the Centraal Museum to see the Vrede van Utrecht exhibit (more about that in the future). Before seeing that exhibit, I took a look through another exhibit featuring art and artists related to Utrecht through the ages. There were some painting of Utrecht I haven’t come across before, as well as others that I’ve only seen online.

It wasn’t all painting, though. There were also pieces of furniture and even some clothing, including a pair of shoes that I am still coveting. Not surprisingly, though, there were a few Rietveld chairs on display. As well as the obvious Red-and-Blue Chair, they also had the Steltman Chair (pictured above).

This has always been one of my favorites, second only to the Utrecht chair. The various horizontal and vertical planes and the use of positive and negative space creates a chair that seems to shift and morph depending on the angle from which you view it. There’s a wonderful blog where someone has built a replica of Rietveld’s chair and he has a variety of photos showing just how much the chair changes, depending on the angle from which it’s viewed.

The chair is known as the Steltman Chair, because Rietveld built it in 1963 (shortly before his death in 1964) for the Steltman Jewelry Store in Den Haag (The Hague). In fact, Rietveld designed the whole interior of the Steltman showroom, the chair being just one aspect of it. You can see a photo of the Rietveld interior on the store’s website. You can also see one of the original chairs at the newly redesigned and reopened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

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.

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
Detail

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.