Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964), architect and furniture designer, was a member of the group of Dutch artists and architects known as de Stijl. He was the first to give its esthetic program visible form.

Gerrit Rietveld was born on June 24, 1888, in Utrecht and lived there most of his life. He was trained as a cabinetmaker by his father (1899-1906) and as a jewelry designer in the studio of C. J. Begeer (1906-1911). For the next 8 years he was self-employed as a cabinetmaker while studying and working with the architect P. J. Klaarhamer. Rietveld's career as an independent architect began in 1919.

A commission to copy from photographs furniture designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for a client of the Dutch architect Robert van't Hoff brought Rietveld into contact with de Stijl (the Style), founded in 1917. De Stijl advocated a "pure" artistic expression based upon the interrelationship in space of rectangles of primary colors. Rietveld was a member of this group from 1919 to 1931, but already in 1917-1918 he had designed the so-called Red-Blue chair. Composed of a modular grid of square or rectangular sticks painted black and with a sustaining seat and back of red and blue rectangular plywood planes, this design enabled each element to maintain its own absolute identity because of the color scheme and the joinery. It was the first executed object to exhibit the artistic principles of de Stijl.

Rietveld applied the same interplay of rectangles to an architectural design in his remodeling of the groundfloor shop front of the G. & Z. C. Jewelry Store, Amsterdam (1920; destroyed). In 1921 he began a period of collaboration with the designer Truus Schröder-Schräder, for and with whom he designed the paradigm of de Stijl architecture, the Schröder House, Utrecht (1924). The flexible design of the two-story house included an upper floor which could be made into one large room by sliding back the movable partitions. Its interior extended out into the surroundings through balconies, corner casement windows, projecting floor and roof planes, and large areas of glass. The exterior was a de Stijl composition of particolored, stuccoed brick planes and painted steel stanchions that suggested an inner volume dynamically defined by discrete lines and planes, but not actually enclosed. It set the standard for the progressive architecture of the 1920s in Europe.

De Stijl principles also formed the series of designs for shop fronts (1924-1929) which, with large-scale housing projects, comprised the bulk of Rietveld's work of the late 1920s. The only one exceptional design from this period was a garage and chauffeur's quarters in Utrecht (1927-1928; now altered). Here his concern was as much for technique as for form. He used precast concrete slabs held in place by a frame of steel I-sections expressed as a de Stijl grid on the exterior. In 1928 Rietveld was one of the co-founders of the CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture).

By the 1930s Rietveld's time seemed to have passed. Commissions became fewer, although he continued to design furniture (Zig-Zag chair, 1934) and buildings. Most of the latter were country houses displaying the canonical white stucco cubes, large areas of glass, and flexible, open planning of the mature International Style in Europe (Hillebrandt House, The Hague, 1935). With renewed interest in de Stijl following World War II, Rietveld continued to design private houses (Stoop House, Velp, 1951) and again received important commissions, including the Hoograven Housing complex, Utrecht (1954-1957), the Jaarbeurs, Utrecht (1956), and the De Ploeg textile factory, Bergeyk (1956). He died in Utrecht on June 25, 1964.

Further Reading on Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

The only monograph on Rietveld is Theodore M. Brown, The Work of G. Rietveld (1958), which includes an illustrated catalog of Rietveld's work, a bibliography, and translations of some of his writings. Hans Ludwig C. Jaffé, De Stijl (1960), discusses Rietveld's connection with the group.