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GERRIT THOMAS RIETVELD
 
 
 
 
  Name   Gerrit Thomas Rietveld 
       
  Born   June 24, 1888
       
  Died   June 25, 1964
       
  Nationality   Netherlands
       
  School   DE STIJL
       
  Official website   www.gerrit-rietveld.nl
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was a prolific designer of furniture and architecture whose two most famous works, the Red-Blue Chair (1918) and the Schröder-Schräder House (1924), are considered icons of early modern architecture and design. Rietveld’s career spanned more than 40 years and included numerous designs for buildings and furniture as well as a number of published articles. An important figure in the De Stijl movement, Rietveld was concerned primarily with the experience of architectural space. Through the articulation of component parts, scale, and structure, he created designs that, although not monumental, provided a setting that elevated the life of the occupant.

Born on 24 June 1888 in Utrecht, Rietveld left school at age 11 to work in his father’s furniture maker’s shop. He left his father’s shop in 1906 to work as a draftsman in the jewelry studio of C.J.Begeer in Utrecht, simultaneously pursuing architecture and drawing courses in the evening. In 1911, Rietveld established his own furniture maker’s shop in Utrecht and continued his evening architectural studies under the architect P.Houtzagers. During this time, he designed several shops and a collection of furniture commissioned by H.G.J.Schelling, an architect for Dutch Rail.

The first design for which Rietveld received recognition was the Red-Blue Chair. Originally of unfinished wood, Rietveld added the color to articulate the individual components. Two planes set at an angle to each other create the seat and back and rest on a composition of horizontal and vertical rails. Extension of the wooden rails and planes beyond their intersection points accents the open quality of the composition. An early version of the chair had side panels that were later removed to create a greater feeling of openness. The cross section of the rail, emphasized with the bright yellow paint, establishes a modular system for the chair. The Red-Blue Chair was followed by otherpieces of furniture, including a buffet, in a similar style of horizontal and vertical rails.

In 1921, Truus Schröder-Schräder commissioned Rietveld to design a study in the house she shared with her husband and three children. This small commission was the beginning of a collaboration and friendship that continued for many years and resulted in his most famous design: the Schröder-Schräder House. Considered to be the preeminent architectural manifestation of the De Stijl movement, the house is the creation of a total living environment based on Mrs. Schröder-Schräder’s ideas about modern living and Rietveld’s spatial explorations. Rietveld saw in De Stijl an alignment with his own interest in the study of new definition of architectural space. Both the Red-Blue Chair and the Schröder-Schräder House were prominently featured in the publication De Stijl, edited by Theo van Doesburg.

In 1928, Rietveld was a founding member of the first CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) in Switzerland and was a deputy delegate in the 1930 CIAM in Frankfurt with Mart Stam. Rietveld’s interest in modernism included the role of industrialization and mass production in architecture and design. In 1929, he proposed the “core” house in which vertical circulation, plumbing, and heating were condensed into a prefabricated core around which the house would be built. Presented in a 1929 exhibition in Utrecht, the concept was well received, but none was ever built. Rietveld designed a number of housing projects, many in conjunction with Truus Schröder-Schräder, including a series of row houses across from the Schröder-Schräder House. In 1930, Rietveld designed, on invitation, five row houses for the 1930–32 Werkbund Siedlung in Vienna.

This interest in industrialization can also be seen in a series of designs for economical furniture by Rietveld and produced by Metz & Co. These included a line of “crate” furniture (1934), easily assembled from precut parts, and the famous Zig-Zag Chair (1934), a single bent plane of wood. Industrialization for Rietveld provided a means by which good design could be made accessible as well as having the ability to eliminate the repetition of tasks required in hand production. Although economy was key in terms of both cost and manufacture, Rietveld was equally concerned with the function and flexibility of an item.

Despite his early successes, however, it was not until the 1950s that Rietveld began to receive larger commissions. Prior to that time, he had produced small commercial and residential designs, some in a distinctly vernacular character. In 1954, Rietveld received the commission for the Netherlands Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, where he used the architecture to create a distinct yet subdued exhibition space through the integration of natural light. Also in 1954, and initially intended as a temporary structure, was the Sonsbeek Pavilion in Arnhem, which was later reconstructed in Otterlo. As in the Schröder-Schräder House, Rietveld explored the layering of spaces through the dissolution of boundaries. The Pavilion is a composition of seemingly independent horizontal and vertical planes creating a series of spaces that are simultaneously redefined by glass walls. Rietveld manipulated economical materials, such as concrete block stacked on its side so that the holes are visible, wood, and glass, to create an interpenetration of space similar to the work of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.

Rietveld began designs for two prominent art academies, as well as for the De Ploeg Textile Factory (1956), that exemplify his later works. In 1961, he entered into a successful partnership with the architects Johan van Dillen and Johan van Tricht and received a number of larger commissions, some of which, such as the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh (1963–72) in Amsterdam, were completed by the partners after Rietveld’s death.

Rietveld received a number of awards and honors during his life, including the Crown Order of Belgium, the Order of Oranje-Nassau, and the Sikkens Prize. He was recognized by his peers with the Bond van Netherlandse Architecten and an honorary degree from the Technische Hogeschool in Delft. Although Rietveld did ultimately receive recognition for his contribution to modern architecture, no single other work was to have the impact of his early designs: the Red-Blue Chair and the Schröder-Schräder House.

KATHERINE WHEELER BORUM

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
   

24 June 1888 Born in Utrecht, Netherlands; son of a cabinetmaker;

1899–1906 Worked in father’s business, Utrecht ;

1906–08 Studied drawing at the Municipal Evening School, Utrecht ;

1906–11 draftsman, C.J.Begeer’s Jewelry Studio, Utrecht ;

1908–11 studied architectural drawing with P.Houtzagers, Utrecht ;

1911–15 studied architecture with P.J.Klaarhamer, Utrecht ;

1911–19 In private practice as a cabinetmaker, Utrecht ;

1919–31 Member, De Stijl ;

1919–60 private architectural practice, Utrecht ;

from 1921 collaborated with Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräder, Utrecht ;

1928 founding member, CIAM ;

1929 Dutch delegate, CIAM conference, Frankfurt;

1942–58 Instructor in industrial and architectural design, Academie voor Bëeldende Kunsten, Rotterdam and the Hague and the Academie voor Baukunst, Amsterdam ;

from 1960 partner, Rietveld, van Dillen, and van Tricht ;

1963 honorary member, Bond van Nederlandse Architecten ;

25 June 1964 Died in Utrecht, Netherlands.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
    Most of Rietveld’s writings have not been translated into English; the few that have may be found in the books by Brown (1958) and Küper. Baroni, Daniele,I mobili di Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Milan: Electa, 1977; as The Furniture of Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Woodbury, New York: Barrons, 1978; as Gerrit Thomas Rietveld Furniture, London: Academy Editions, 1978 Berg, E. and H.Bak, “Rietveld and His Museum Buildings,” Arkitekten (12 March 1974) Brown, Theodore, The Work of G. Rietveld, Architect, Utrecht: Bruna, and Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1958 Brown, Theodore, “Rietveld’s Egocentric Vision,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 24 (1965) Buffinga, A., G. Th. Rietveld, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1971 Casciato, Maristella, “Family Matters: The Schröder House, by Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder” in Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social and Architectural History, edited by Alice Friedman, New York: Abrams, 1998 Doumato, Lamia, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, 1888–1964, Monticello, Illinois: Vance Bibliographies, 1983 G.Rietveld, Architect (exhib. cat.), Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1971; London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1972 Jaffé, H.L.C., De Stijl, 1917–1931: The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, and London: Tiranti, 1956 Küper, Marijke and Ida van Zijl, Gerrit Th. Rietveld, 1888–1964: The Complete Works, Utrecht, the Netherlands: Centraal Museum, 1992 Mulder, Bertus and Ida van Zijl, Rietveld Schröder House, Bussum, the Netherlands: V and K, and New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997 Overy, Paul, De Stijl, London: Studio Vista, 1969 Overy, Paul, “Carpentering the Classic: A Very Popular Practice: The Furniture of Gerrit Rietveld,” Journal of Design History, 4/3 (1991) Overy, Paul et al., Het Rietveld Schröder Huis, Houten, the Netherlands: De Haan, 1988; as The Rietveld Schröder House, Houten, the Netherlands: De Haan, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, and London: Butterworth Architecture, 1988 Rond, Dennis and Annemiek Testal, Rietveld in Amsterdam: alle uitgevoerde en niet uitgevoere projekten; Rietveld in Amsterdam: All Executed and Not Executed Projects (bilingual Dutch-English edition), Rotterdam: Uitgeverij, 1988 Slothouber, Erik (editor), De Kunstnijverheidsscholen van Gerrit Rietveld; The Artschools of Gerrit Rietveld (bilingual Dutch-English edition), Amsterdam: de Balie, 1997 St. John Wilson, Colin, “Gerrit Rietveld: 1888–1964,” Architectural Review, 136 (1964) Troy, Nancy, The De Stijl Environment, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1983 Yee, R., “A Touch of De Stijl,” Progressive Architecture (March 1975)

Selected Publications

Nieuwe zakelijkheid in der nederlandse architektur, 1932 Over kennis en kunst, lezing-cyclus over stedebouw, 1946 Rietveld 1924—Schröder Huis, 1963

BOOKS AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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