The Schröderhuis, with its flexible interior spatial arrangement, combined with visual and formal qualities, is a De Stijl Movement manifesto, and it has always been considered one of the icons of Modern Architecture.
When Mrs. Truss Schröder lost her husband, she decided to move to a new residence; to do so, in 1924, she contacted the De Stijl architect Gerrit Rietveld, outlining the commission for her new house, in which she wanted to see expressed his vision of how a woman should live in a modern and independent way. She actively participated in the design of the house and its furniture (the reason as to why this building is called the Rietveld Schröder House) and lived there for 60 years until her death in 1984.
Rietveld, meanwhile, used the opportunity to put into practice the ideas and concepts of the De Stijl (or “Neoplasticist”) Movement, based on the abstraction of all forms into orthogonal lines and planes, in addition to reducing all chromatic palettes into primary colors, white and black.
The house is in many ways unique. It is the only building of its type in Rietveld’s body of work, while also differing from other significant buildings of the early modern movement, such as the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier or the Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe; this difference lies in particular in the treatment of architectural space and the conception of the functions of the building. Many contemporary architects were deeply influenced by the Schröder house, and its legacy has endured even to the present day.
Those passing by 50 Prins Hendriklaan road, in Utrecht, will probably feel like they are in front of a three-dimensional version of one of Mondrian’s paintings. Their hunch won’t be too off the mark: what they are looking at is Schröder House, whom together with Piet Mondrian was part of the De Stijl art movement.
The Style, or Neoplasticism, is that artistic form where abstractness, geometry and simplicity triumph.
An architectural language made of orthogonal planes, which, in turn, form large open-plan spaces or divide them into new rooms, where large sliding panels are the main actors of this change. Space is “alive”, bathed in natural light, which comes from a multitude of windows. The cubic volume of the building is broken, almost dematerialized, and reassembled into primary elements such as lines and planes, whose transparency exposes its interior; balconies, terraces, and metal columns intertwine, further emphasizing the immateriality of the volume. The structure ultimately frees its components, each one now able to act not merely its intended purpose, but whatever the authors, architect, and inhabitant alike, wish it to be.
However, the best interpretation of this quite extravagant structure can be summed up in a single object, placed at the heart of the house: the Red and Blue Chair, designed a few years earlier by Gerrit Rietveld himself, whom, before his venture into architecture, worked as a furniture designer. Of note, the chair’s simple silhouette comes from the combination of different orthogonal planes. What’s more, this piece can be viewed as an abstract sculpture, complete with transparencies and primary colors combined with black: looking at it, one can see the same design guidelines that helped shape the making of Schröder House.
[…] We didn’t avoid the older styles because they were ugly, or because we couldn’t reproduce them, but because our times required their form, I mean, their manifestation. It was extremely difficult to achieve all this despite the building regulations and that is why the interior of the lower part of the house is a bit traditional, I mean with fixed walls. But upstairs we just called it ‘attic’ and that’s where we built the house we wanted.
– Gerrit Rietveld, on planning the construction of the house
The Rietveld Schröder House acts as a radical break with all architecture. The two-story house is located at the end of a terrace but does not seek to relate to neighboring buildings. Inside there is not a static accumulation of rooms, but a dynamic, and changing open area. The ground floor alone can still be described as a bit traditional; arranged around a central staircase are a kitchen and three bedrooms.
The upstairs living area, defined as the attic, forms a large open area, with the sole exception of a separate toilet and bathroom. Rietveld wanted to leave the upper level as it was, while Mrs. Schröder felt that as living space it had to be usable in both forms, both open or divided: this was ultimately achieved with an aerodynamic system of sliding and pivoting doors. Mrs. Schröder used these panels to open up the space on the second floor, leaving the possibility to close or separate the rooms when desired. In summary, the housing level included three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a living room; between this and the single room, completely open, there is a wide variety of possible permutations, each of which provides its own spatial experience.
The facades are a collage of planes and lines, the components of which are deliberately detached and seem to slide one over the other, allowing the arrangement of several balconies. Like Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair, each component has its shape, position, and color. Furthermore, each color was chosen to reinforce the plasticity of the facades; surfaces in white and shades of grey, black fixtures, and a series of linear elements in primary colors.
The main materials used in the project are reinforced concrete slabs and steel profiles. The walls are brick and plaster; fixtures, doors, and floors were made of wood. To preserve the rigorous design standards for intersecting floors, the windows are hinged so that they can only open 90 degrees to the wall.
UNESCO World Heritage
It should come as no surprise that the Rietveld Schröder House has a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2 December 2000. This architectural masterpiece, based on the ideals of De Stijl, is unrivaled both within and outside the oeuvre of its Utrecht-born architect and designer.
Today, the entirety of Rietveld Schröderhuis is a museum. The house was carefully restored and is now in excellent condition and under the regular care of the Centraal Museum of Utrecht. The committee decided to apply Criterion I and II, defined as:
Criterion (I): The Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht is an icon of the Modern Movement in architecture and an outstanding expression of human creative genius in its purity of ideas and concepts, as developed by the De Stijl movement.
Criterion (II): With its radical approach to design and the use of space, the Rietveld Schröderhuis occupies a seminal position in the development of architecture in the modern age.