Happy birthday to my wonderful boyfriend! I’m particularly fond of this photo of him with our dog, Pippo, because it shows how they both wait so patiently, without a word of complaint, as I’m constantly stopping to take photos. Plus, they’re both so handsome! I’m a very lucky woman.
The Discovery channel recently aired an episode about the Rotterdam port on the show called Extreme Engineering (Build It Big is the title in the US, I believe). The program discussed the ways in which Dutch engineers were building new land to expand the port, which is one of the busiest in the world. By taking sand from the sea bed, they’re able to build new, stable land to add about three square miles to the port. They’re expanding the Netherlands without having to invade any other countries! Impressive!
The Dutch are experts at land/water management, not surprising considering many parts of the country are built below sea level. In fact, while we were out driving around last week, we noticed a few times that the water in the canals next to the road was actually higher than the road. It felt like I was back in New Orleans. The Dutch are such experts, that they helped build the Palm Islands in Dubai (hopefully they got paid first) and helped expand Singapore, and are world leaders in dredging and land expansion.
We got our own little close-up view of the behind-the-scenes workings of Dutch management of land and water a couple of weeks ago. As we were trying to find Prins Hendriklaan to make our way to the Rietveld-Schröder House, we soon came across a dead end. Prins Hendriklaan was under some construction. In fact, the road was missing for about a block.
It may not look quite so impressive, other than just a big hole in the ground, until you realize that the road intersects a canal. If you look closely to the left of the following photo, just behind the red machine, runs the canal.
The street doesn’t form a bridge over the canal. It completely blocks the canal at that point. The canal then starts up again to the right.
It’s interesting to see the physical structures that go into maintaining a balance between land and water. It’s even more interesting to know that there’s a long history and tradition behind these structures. If you get a chance to see the Science/Discovery Channel program, I recommend it. It’s truly impressive on multiple levels.
Just down the street from the Rietveld-Schröder House is the St. Antonius Gasthuis. Two drastically different styles of architecture on one street, but both are eye-catching. The Gasthuis was built in 1910 as a hospital and remained in operation until 1983, when it moved to Nieuwegein. The majority of the hospital was torn down, but the main entrance building (the part first built in 1910) was turned into houses and apartments.
To see a photo of the gasthuis in its full, original, and massive glory, check out this website. It’s in Dutch, but you can see a photo of the building, nonetheless. Prins Hendriklaan, the street on which it stands, looks much different now! Today, it’s a quiet, residential, tree-lined street.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.