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 the Modern Architecture.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/60509750@N08/8754755727
When Mrs. Truss Schröder lost her husband, she decided to move to a new residence; in order to do so, in 1924, she contacted the Destijl 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 is furniture (the reason as why this building is actually called the Rietvield 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 in 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.
Image source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/de-stijl
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 colours 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 older styles because they were ugly, or because we couldn’t reproduce them, but because our own times demanded their own form, I mean, their own manifestation. It was of course extremely difficult to achieve all this in spite of the building regulations and that’s why the interior of the downstairs part of the house is somewhat traditional, I mean with fixed walls. But upstairs we simply called it and ‘attic’ and that’s where we actually made the house we wanted.
– Gerrit Rietveld, on planning the construction of the house
The Rietveld Schröder House acts as, in both its interior and exterior space design, a radical break with all architecture before it, even among its Modernist peers. The two-story house is situated at the end of a terrace, but it makes no attempt to relate to its neighbouring buildings . Inside there is no static accumulation of rooms, but a dynamic, changeable open zone. The ground floor only can still be defined as somewhat traditional; arranged around a central staircase are a kitchen and three bedrooms.
The living area upstairs, defined as an attic to comply with the fire regulations of urban planning codes, in reality forms a large open zone, with the sole exception og a separate toilet and a bathroom. Rietveld wanted to leave the upper level as it was, whereas Mrs. Schröder felt that as living space it should be usable in either form, both open or subdivided: this was ultimately archieved with a streamlined system of sliding and revolving panel-doors. Mrs. Schröder used these panels to open up the space to the second floor, thus allowing for a more open area for her and her three children, leaving available the option of closing or separating the rooms whenever desired. In summary, the living level comprised three bedrooms, bathroom and living room; in-between this and the single room, fully open floor plan there is a wide variety of possible permutations, each providing its own spatial experience.
The facades are a collage of planes and lines, whose components are purposely detached from, and seem to glide past, one another, enabling the arrangement of several balconies. Like Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair, each component has its own form, position and colour. Speaking of the latter, each colour was chosen as to strengthen the plasticity of the facades; surfaces in white and shades of grey, black window and doorframes, and a number of linear elements in primary colours.
The main materials used in the project are reinforced concrete slabs and steel profiles. Walls are made of brick and plaster; window frames, doors, and floors were made from wood. To preserve the strict design standards regarding intersecting planes, the windows are hinged so that they are only able to 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 borm 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 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.