Utrecht and Rietveld Schroderhuis

Just 30 minutes from Amsterdam lies Utrecht, a free-spirited university city known for its old buildings as well as modern architecture (namely that of Gerrit Rietveld), the Dom Tower–the highest tower in The Netherlands, and Oudegracht–a picturesque canal where everyone sits on terraces drinking, gossiping, and enjoying a 3 Euro Mario pizza or broodje.

Gerrit Rietveld was a furniture maker and architect who was part of the de Stijl design movement that sought to achieve simplicity and aesthetic balance by abstraction of color to primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and primary values white, black, and grey. Rectangular forms and the intersection of vertical and horizontal lines were used to allow each plane to exist spatially independent of one another.

A small-town local Dutch guy by the name of Gerrit Rietveld transformed the scope and meaning of architecture in 1924 with the revolutionary and ‘weird’ house that he designed and built for Truus Schroder and her three children.

Described at the time of its building as “hyper modern”, the Rietveld Schroderhuis, which is now a UNESCO monument, was an exercise in problem solving and using space to the utmost efficiency and practicality. From the outside, the house just looks like a box, but touring the inside I got to see just how out of the box Rietveld was in his conceptualization and execution of the house.

Open space and light were critical to both Rietveld’s work and to Schroder’s sensibilities, and Ms. Schroder played a huge role in the planning of the house, asking Rietveld something along the lines of “Can I have a house that doesn’t have walls, but can have walls when I want them?” Together, they created an incredibly versatile and functional home with modular formations and changeable living spaces for different times of the day–communal family living by day, private bedrooms by night.

Not unlike an amoeba changing shape and form right before your eyes, I watched sliding walls disappear and transform the 3 “bedrooms” and “dining area” of the upper floor into one large, communal, family living space, “beds” transformed into sitting benches, and huge glass windows opened to merge the outside with the inside, completely eliminating any sort of delineation between the two and bringing in an enormous amount of light, air, and space into what appears to be a very small and cramped house. With all of the windows of the upper floor’s main living space opened, the ceiling, white, seemed as if to float from the walls, also painted white. This effect is further accentuated by a narrow strip of black paint between the ceiling and the walls.

Just watch the video: http://centraalmuseum.nl/en/visit/locations/rietveld-schroder-house/

At the time, most houses had the main living/family space on the bottom floor. Truus Schroder felt more free when elevated from the ground floor, so Rietveld borrowed the idea of the speakerphone from the navy in order to allow communication between the various grocery boys (the milk guy, the bread guy, the meat guy, the fish guy, etc) dropping off goods on the bottom floor self-service window and Ms. Schroder. And Rietveld thought, if it worked for the navy to communicate between the different levels in a ship, why not in a house?

Pictures of the inside of the house are not allowed, so here is one picture of the exterior of this very inspiring house and a few pictures of Utrecht.