images (right) © designboom

running until 11 january 2011 at the centraal museum in utrecht, the netherlands, is ‘rietveld’s universe‘, a retrospective exhibition on the work of gerrit rietveld (1888-1964) which encompasses much more than the classic red-blue chair and the colour-blocked ‘schröder house’ which he is more popularly known for. following up on our earlier coverage which focused on his furniture work, we now dwell on rietveld’s contribution to 20th century architecture and social housing. through a collection of models, videos, and drawings, the exhibition analyzes and compares the creative genius of the dutch architect with his contemporaries such as le corbusier, mies van der rohe, theo van doesburg and walter gropius.

following a number of revolutions, two world wars, the cold war, and the biggest economic crisis of the twentieth century, rietveld along with his contemporaries strove to bring architecture back to its essence in order to develop a suitable design for the future. it was no longer a construction of thick protective walls or about an impressive exterior: it was the creation of space. rietveld remained true to this viewpoint through his life, even if he alternated straight lines with curved forms, flat asphalt roofs with thatching, and primary colours with pastel shades.

rietveld universe   architecture model of ‘core house’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        image © designboom

the ‘core house’ explored rietveld’s interest in the prefabrication and modernization of living spaces. fundamental to the ‘nieuwe bouwen’ group which was one of the influences in the development of modern architecture by the end of the 1920s, the service programs were installed a prefabricated unit. this core comprised of a front door, stairwell, bathroom, and technical utilities. additional rooms could be added and assembled on site. the design was a proposal for a low-cost residential structure that offered a high level of flexibility.

rietveld aimed to formulate a looser clustering of functions and a freer style of living than was customary in the netherlands at the time. his famous ‘schröder house’ demonstrates this intention through its open floor plan.

rietveld universe   architecture miniature ‘zig-zag chairs’ in the model with their minimal profiles, rietveld saw the chairs as an object that least disrupted the surrounding space. he often resorted to using them in models and drawings, as seen here. image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture aerial shot of the model the ‘core’ component of the model, which is made in glass, is removable, demonstrating its prefabricated nature image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture(left) first model of the ‘schröder house’ made from a block of wood (right) another model of the ‘schröder house’ in its realized design image © designboom

often seen as one of the most recognized and direct example of modern residential architecture, the ‘schröder house’ was built for truus schroder-schrader in utrecht. the interior utilizes an extensive system of moveable walls to provide maximum flexibility and changeability.

the facades are made up of intersecting planes and lines in a multitude of bold colours. these elements flow freely from the interior to the exterior, blurring the bounding line between inside and outside.

rietveld universe   architecture exterior view of the ‘schröder house’ (1924) the house was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 2000 images © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture looking out from the open corner window of the ‘schröder house’ images © designboom

from small-scale projects to large major buildings, rietveld strove to define their spaces and let them flow into one another, both internally and externally. as done with the ‘schröder house’, by intersecting two planes as an open corner, the sense of space was enhanced in a simple solution. when both windows are open, the corner disappears completely.

rietveld universe   architecture ‘erasmuslaan 9’ by rietveld in utrecht, the netherlands the series of apartment buildings were built on a plot southeast of the ‘schröder house’ the design explored elements that would return repeatedly in his later projects.images © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture curator ida van zijl (far right) with british architect, critic and historian, kenneth frampton (right) at the exhibition image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture (left) exhibition view – rietveld’s works are displayed on tables with grey legs; his contemporaries’ on tables with white legs (right) le corbusier’s ‘chapel of notre dame du haut’ in ronchamp, france images © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture model of ‘garage with chauffeur’s apartment’, 1927-28utrecht, the netherlands constructed out of an iron frameowrk filled with masonry and covered with concrete slabs, the building was an experimental prototype for the increasing industrialzation of housing. the slabs are adorned with a pattern of white dots on a black background made with enamel paint. image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture models of ‘buys house’, 1933-34 laren and blaricum, the netherlands while both models were different variations of the same project, they were wildly different in design: the left features a curved roof while the right is a cubic volume with a circular ground plan. image © designboom

common features of rietveld’s houses were often resisted, especially in non-urban settings such as the residence he designed for the architecture critic h. burys in laren, the netherlands. the project was repeatedly turned down for planning permission, resulting in a range of successive versions showcasing the architect’s flexibility.

rietveld universe   architecture model of rietveld’s ‘smit house’, 1946-49 kinderdijk, the netherlands built in a village on the lek river, this design dramatically changed between the model above, a two-storey building full of rounded forms, and the final building, a linear bungalow. image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture model of ‘parkhurst home’, 1957-61 oberlin, ohio paper, glass 11.8 x 41 x 34.5 cm image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture model for a working-class dwelling with a central core, 1941 paper, glass 10.7 x 5.1 x 20 cm image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture another variation of a working class dwelling with a central prefab core image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture sketch and model of rietveld’s design proposal for the philips pavilion for expo ’58 in brussels (left) pencil on paper, 1956 15.5 x 22 cm (right) paper, plexi 4 x 18.5 x 15.7 cm

rietveld universe   architecture ‘mondial chair’ (1957) to the left; a model of le corbusier’s ‘philips pavilion’ image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture model of the ‘juliana hall royal trade fair’ building, 1953-56 utrecht, the netherlands image © designboom

rietveld universe   architecture exhibition view image © designboom

a collaborative project the exhibition ‘rietveld’s universe’ is realized by the centraal museum and the NAI netherlands architecture institute, at the initiative of the centraal museum, the technical university delft and the university of utrecht. the exhibition features works on loan from important national and international collections from the centre pompidou and the fondation le corbusier in paris, the MoMA museum of modern art in new york, the stedelijk museum amsterdam, vitra design museum in weil am rhein, the bauhaus-archiv in berlin and the archives of the GTA zürich.

publications the exhibition is accompanied by 2 publications rietveld’s universe by NAi Publishers in collaboration with the university of utrecht, research centre ®MIT, the faculty of architecture TU delft, and the netherlands architecture institute. rob dettingmeijer, marie-thérèse van thoor and ida van zijl (edit.) dutch edition, ISBN 978-90-5662-745-4 english edition, ISBN 978-90-5662-746-1

and the first english monograph on gerrit rietveld (in fifty years): gerrit rietveld by iida van zijl, published by phaidon. ISBN 9780714857480

rietveld year the city of utrecht is rightly proud of the fact that most of the rietveld buildings are within its city limits and that the municipal museum owns that largest rietveld collection in the world. 2010 has been proclaimed as international rietveld year. it is the starting point of a long term campaign to profile rietveld as an icon of utrecht and to permanently link his name to the city. various activities are organized in the city, the province, and elsewhere.