Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Some of it seems pretty obvious by today’s design standards but in 1924 it was revolutionary. But even now, in 2013, some if it is still quite remarkable. That’s why this small house at the end of a row of terrace in the Dutch city of Utrecht has been included on the World Heritage List.
If you didn’t know about the significance of the Rietveld Schroder House you would still notice it. Walking down Laan van Minsweerd – a quiet street in eastern Utrecht – there’s a row of brown terraces one after another, almost indiscernible from the next. Then you get to the end, just in front of an overpass, and there’s this strange small white house with yellow and red poles jutting out.
The overpass wasn’t there in 1924 when the house was constructed. Back then there were just open fields as far as the eye could see. That’s why architect Gerrit Rietvald and his client, Truus Schroder-Schrader, chose this location. What Truus (a widow with three children) wanted for her new house was something that felt unconstrained by space and boundaries – something where the intersection with the outdoors was blurry.
Together they reimagined the way a house should be laid out. They threw design principles of the time out the window and challenged the orthodox.
These days the Rietveld Schroder House is a museum and so you can book a tour and go and see it for yourself. Unfortunately there is no photography allowed inside, so you’ll have to let me describe it for you with words.
The first thing you notice once you go in is that the downstairs is fairly conventional. But this is all a sham. The kitchen and bedrooms based around a central staircase were designed in such a way so they would get building approval. But these rooms, other than the kitchen, were never intended to be used for anything in particular. They are spares. The upstairs, which is officially an attic (if city officials asked) is where they let their imaginations run free.
On first glance, it looks strange. That’s because it is essentially one open space (apart from the toilet and bathroom). There are beds in the corners which have a direct view to the dining table and the other beds. There’s no clear sense of where the living area stops and the sleeping areas begin. In fact, it seems like they can be one and the same.
Then the guide, who is showing me and the other tourists around the house, starts pushing hidden sliding doors, lifting decorations off the wall and covering windows with them, pulling on a rope to lift up the skylight cover, opening windows and sliding them away so they disappear, and more. All these little secrets the house had been hiding transformed it into something else. Bedrooms could be closed off, the shape of the living space could be changed, sunlight could flow in or darkness could fall. The entire upstairs of the Rietveld Schroder House is malleable to suit the needs of the moment.
There are so many other little things that I could tell you about but I fear we would be here all day. The tiniest little details – things you would never normally see in houses – had been considered. The way a ceiling is painted black so it turns an internal window into a mirror from one side; the way coloured vertical poles move between being outside to inside to break down the barriers of walls; the way one end of a cupboard door is painted a darker colour so finger marks don’t show up. It’s a house designed from the inside out, around its inhabitants.
This should be a compulsory visit for any architect or anyone who has an interest in the field. It left my mind boggling at how one small house could have so many interesting and ingenious features. It makes me want to get something like this one day myself!
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Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Utrecht but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.