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Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

Biographies
Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

*  1888 Utrecht
† 1964 Utrecht


The Utrecht designer and architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld is regarded as a luminary of the De Stijl movement and created ground-breaking works both in architecture as well as in furniture design.
Born as the son of a carpenter in 1888, he was at first trained in his father's profession. He acquired his knowledge of architecture in classes by Pieter Jan Christophel Klaarhamer, and was also strongly impressed by buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. Klarhammer also introduced Gerrit Thomas Rietveld to the ideas of the De Stijl-group which consisted of, among other painters and architects, Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Robert van`t Hoff and was formed in 1917. Gerrit Rietveld would soon join the movement that had the aim of advancing Cubism and that wanted to attain a universal modernization of arts by means of a geometrically reduced and purely objective use of forms, that was supposed to be applied to all objects of utility. Vertical and horizontal lines and a pure black and white as well as the basic colors dominated the design ideas of De Stijl, which becomes most obvious in Gerrit Thomas Rietveld's prototypical "Rot-Blau-Stuhl" (Red-Blue-Chair) from 1918. This work, which seems like a three-dimensional manifesto of the De Stijl ideas, Gerrit Rietveld invented a redefinition of seating furniture: The chair is an ingenious yet simple combination of basic rectangular shapes, colored in red, blue, yellow and black, that seize the room. His favor for standardized serial furniture can be observed in the "Rot-Blau-Stuhl", which counts among Gerrit Rietveld's most prominent and influential works.
His achievements in the field of architecture were as ground-breaking as in design, as for example the "House Schröder" in Utrecht (1924) shows, it propagated a new relationship between interior and exterior. Visibly integrated steel girders incorporate the constructive elements into the design, Moveable walls structure the upper floor, corner windows open the rooms to the outside, comparable with works of Mies van der Rohe.
Gerrit Rietveld was one of the co-founders of the "Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne" (CIAM) in 1928, which prepared fruitful grounds for new ideas in architecture and urban development.
Even though the order situation on the market made him more of an architect of villas, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld always had a deep interest "Volkswohnungen" (Housing for the people) and social housing projects. The minimalistic terraced houses in the Utrecht Erasmuslaan, built in 1930/31, clearly show this tendency towards a strict functionality, which is similar to the " Nieuwe Bouwen" (New Building). In furniture design Gerrit Rietveld develops the "Zig-Zag-Chair" in those years (1932-34), which combines four boards in a classical rectangular arrangement for the backrest and a bold 45° angle on the basis.
During the war, Gerrit Rietveld did not get any bigger orders, especially since Modernism was now suppressed by a historicizing style. It was not before 1954 that Gerrit Rietveld returns to the attention of a broader audience with works of a noble elegance, for instance the Dutch pavilion for the Biennale in Venice or the one for the sculpture exhibition in Sonsbeek, today in the park of the Kröller-Müller-Museum. Buildings such as pavilion Zonnehof in Amersfoort (1958/59) or the house "Van den Doel" in Ilpendam (1959) follow. He stays true to his constructivist style, even after the war, and maintains a strict use of forms, a stress on the material's color, and also his favor for the white, black and grey.
The academy in Arnheim and the Amsterdam art academy count among his last works before he dies on July 25, 1964. His biggest project, the Amsterdam van Gogh-Museum, could only be opened nine years later.

Cf.: Bless, Frits: Rietveld 1888-1964. Een biografie, Amsterdam 1982.