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.

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).

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.

Stijlish Bicycles

De Stijl Fietsen
I haven’t been doing so well with the daily photos the past few days, in part due to other distractions. Yesterday, we (finally) went to the Rietveld Universum exhibit at the Centraal Museum. It was an excellent exhibit, which I shall write more about when I’m feeling a bit more chatty. Today, I just don’t feel like I can write about any of the topics I want to write about and do them justice. So for now, enjoy this colorful photo of the bicycles that are decorated in the colors associated with De Stijl and Rietveld. They’re available for use at the museum to visit other locations. Now I’m considering giving my own bike a bit of a new paint job!

Rietveld’s Chairs

De Stijl
Gerrit Rietveld didn’t just work as an architect. He was also a designer and created some very famous chairs. One of the most famous is the Rood-Blauw Leunstoel (Red-Blue Chair), which has been getting some extra mileage this year during the Rietveldjaar celebrations.
Blue Blauw

Next to the Rietveld-Schröder House is a highway overpass that was constructed in the 1960s. In 2001, the overpass (or technically the underpass) got a Rietveld-inspired makeover. The whole thing is covered in blue and white tiles and depicts many of Rietveld’s most famous chair designs. The tile project is appropriately titled Sitting in Blue.
Stoelen
I’m quite fond of the zigzag chair as seen above. Many of these chairs are featured in a special video made by Utrecht band C-mon & Kypski. They’ve been working with the Centraal Museum to help promote the Rietveldjaar. They’re also performing a concert at the Tivoli here in town later this month. It’s a catchy song and the video is a fun play of musical chairs. Check it out!

Street Life with Art
For more information about Rietveld and for a view of the many different works he designed, check out the new Rietveld Collection website. It’s in English and Dutch and is a great way to learn more about his work.

Rietveld-Schröder Huis

Rietveld-Schröder Huis
One of the first things I discovered about Utrecht once I knew we would be moving here, was the fact that it was the location of the famous Rietveld-Schröder House. With all the architectural history I studied at university, I was very familiar with this De Stijl house and I was thrilled to know that I’d have the chance to see it in person. Fast forward a couple of years to this past week, when I decided it was time to finally go see this architectural gem. It is, after all, Rietveldjaar (Rietveld Year), so this morning I finally decided to go see it for myself.

Side View From Back
Built in 1924 by Gerrit Rietveld, an Utrecht architect and designer, the house was built for — and designed with the input of — the owner, Truus Schröder, a widow with modern tastes. The house, which was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, is the only building designed and constructed according to the principles of De Stijl.
Front Detail
For the record, some of the main principles of De Stijl included a focus on pure abstraction and a simplicity of form and color, reducing all things to basic horizontal and vertical lines, squares and rectangles, asymmetrical forms, and primary colors. Certainly, one of the most famous artists of the style is Piet Mondrian, famous for his black-and-white grid paintings with squares and rectangles of red, blue and yellow. Looking at the Rietveld house, it’s as if one of Mondrian’s painting has come to life and moved into a realm of three dimension.
Glint

The house itself is a square shape primarily colored in white and grey, with small touches of red, blue and yellow. The lines of the house are straight horizontal and vertical lines, intersecting to create smaller squares and rectangles, while avoiding straight symmetry. The interior of the house, as well, was simple and open, but with movable walls that could change up the layout of the interior space, creating new rooms and flow patterns.
Back View
You can take tours of the house organized by the Centraal Museum, or if you just want to look at the outside — as we did — you can simply wander around admiring the different views and angles. As I moved around to the side and back of the house, I started sneezing repeatedly. I’m obviously allergic to something growing in that area, because it was an immediate reaction! But a little sneezing never stopped me from admiring a beautiful building! If you can’t make it to Utrecht, you can also take an online guided tour of the house.
Side View
It’s a lovely area to walk around, just to the east of Wilhelmina Park, which is a gem unto itself. The street on which the house stands, Prins Hendriklaan, is full of lovely architectural surprises, from the St. Antonius Gasthuis to some of the more modern structures on nearby Gerrit Rietveldhof. The juxtaposition of the Rietveld-Schröder House against the larger, but more traditional style of architecture makes a visit more than worth it.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a bit more about Rietveld’s chairs.

(Half) Year of Rietveld


I studied art history at university and was particularly interested in architecture. Although I tended to be more into rustication from the 1400s, I also enjoyed the more modern work that was done in the early 20th century. One of the buildings that I always found appealing was the Rietveld-Schröder House, built by Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schröder. It just so happens that the house is here in Utrecht.

Beginning Thursday, Utrecht will be celebrating Rietveldjaar (Rietveld Year), although to be honestly, it only runs through January 2011, so it’s more of a half-year celebration. Still, there will be various events and such going on, including free guided tours of the house this weekend (something I’m tempted to do). Anyone want to go with me? Later in the year, C-Mon & Kypski will be doing a special performance at Tivoli for the celebrations. Three of them can also be seen in the video above. I’m not sure what happened to Kypski, the one I actually have met.

The video shows his famous red-blue chair making the trip from the house to the Utrecht Centraal Museum (which now maintains the house), with stops at the Stadhuis where the mayor (I’m assuming) takes a ride, and also takes a trip through the Griftpark, where it’s visited by one of Rietveld’s other famous chair designs. Rietveld was part of the architecture and design movement known as De Stijl, known for its simplified use of form and color, emphasizing the use of straight lines and rectangular shapes, but not necessarily symmetry. The Rietveld-Schröder House was built completely using the principles of De Stijl.