This was our first visit to Utrecht. The sole reason for visiting this city was to see the Rietveld Shroder House. It had been on my 'bucket list' for many, many years. On every European trip, I schedule into our programme, visits to iconic buildings designed by renowned 20th century architects. I have a particular interest in Art Nouveau architecture and design, and its extreme opposite, Modernist (Functionalist) architecture and design. The former is 'artistic' and idiosyncratic through applied ornament and the latter is austere in eschewing ornamentation. Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, in an earlier post, belongs to the latter.
This house in Utrecht was designed by the De Stijl architect Rietveld in 1924 (Mondrian was the most famous member of the Dutch De Stijl group. You are so familiar with them - geometric paintings - white grounds with black horizontal and vertical intersecting lines with the addition of red, yellow and blue - they are iconic).
Rietveld's, client, Truus Schroder, was a widow with 3 children. She and Rietveld collaborated on the design of this house (they were lovers). She wanted a home where she could be very engaged with her children and where like-minded artists and intellectuals could gather to discuss ideas.
It was designed according to De Stijl principles. Think of it as a very complex Mondrian painting in 3D. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph the interior of the house, so a brief description will have to suffice. The ground floor was the 'service' area - kitchen, maid's room, and when Rietveld moved in, he installed a dark room to develop his own photographs. His office was also on this floor. The kitchen was innovative for its time because of its glass wall cabinets. Upstairs is the living area and it is an open-plan space. At night, walls and doors were slid along coloured runners on the ceiling to make private bedroom spaces for the children. The day-time sofas converted to children's beds at night. Truus's bedroom was a separate room and it was almost claustrophobic in its lack of space (the bed almost occupied the whole room and it was not a wide bed). So much was cleverly concealed on this floor - the bathroom, storage units, etc. All furniture was designed by Rietveld and most of the furniture in the house today is original to this house. Must also mention that curtains were never a feature in this house. Downstairs, blue panels were put up by the maid at night (the originals are still stacked in the kitchen) and in the living area upstairs, blue blinds (the originals are still in place) were pulled down. The windows on this level could be opened right out on a fine day to bring the outside to the inside.
It is the 'trickiest' house I have ever been in.
I was listening to a description of the interior while waiting for the guide to take us through the house. It is such a fragile house that you have to be accompanied by a guide - and that is a good thing because she is the one who demonstrates all the tricky devices in the house. You just wouldn't know how this house functions otherwise. By the way to see this house you need to book in. We did that before we left Australia. The house is managed by the Centraal Museum in Utrecht.
This is the side view of the house. The Shroder House when built was butted up against the brick semi-detached house that you can just see in the photograph. We were told that this row of houses was at the very edge of Utrecht's suburbia in the early 1920s.
This is the front view of the house.
Rietveld was primarily a furniture designer before being commissioned to design Truus Shroder's family home.
I am not going to leave Utrecht at this point. This small city has much to offer and if you have not visited Utrecht, we would highly recommend that you add it to your next European sojourn.
This building is a 4 storey monumental stadskasteel (city castle) and has been declared a National Heritage Site. It is the oldest building in Utrecht, being built in the 11th century.
Strandwest is a very contemporary design and home solutions store which occupies all 4 floors of this historical building.
We moved on to find a cafe to have a cup of tea. We found it.......Winkel van Sinkel!
Winkel van Sinkel was the 'Selfridges of Utrecht'! At what point did this department store become a restaurant/bar, salsa dance venue??? I do not know! It was just along from Strandwest. We sat on the terrace facing the sun and ordered our cup of tea. It was a glorious day - and this was at the end of October!
While enjoying our morning tea at Winkel van Sinkel, we noticed an extraordinary contemporary 'free-standing' (????) facade in front of another building. There were, however, what appeared to be struts between this facade and the building behind it, and Philip thought that it was a building still under construction. We wandered off to explore this building further. We eventually discovered it was Utrecht's City Hall!
This is what we could see from Winkel van Sinkel. At this point we did not know that it is Utrecht's City Hall. We turned the corner and ..............
Still none the wiser as to what this monumental building is, so walked its length and turned the corner, to be gobsmacked by this 'ruin' (??????)
We were totally mystified, because there was nothing to identify this bizarre building. We had to bail up a person coming out of the building to the left of this 'conglomeration', to find out what purpose this building served. She told us that this was the administration building for the City Hall. She said she worked in the building - she absolutely loves it but many do not. To find out more she suggested that we go into the building via the door she came out of, where we would be able to find out much more from the person on the information desk. And this person was ever so friendly, helpful and informative.
This is what we found out. The City Hall was an assemblage of medieval houses and halls close to the canal. In the 19th century, a classical facade was built around them to unify them. Then another wing was added in the Modernist style in the 1930s.
In 1997, the 'fathers' of the Utrecht City Hall commissioned Miralles Tagliabue EMBT (husband and wife team, Enric Miralles and wife Bernadetta Tagliabue) to 'rehabilitate' the City Hall. The internals of the conglomeration were in decay. They were instructed to conserve what could be saved and to create a new building for administration. Sections of the buildings destroyed were used for this building!
We were given permission to wander through the building. If a door was closed, however, we were not to attempt to open it nor were we allowed to go into the administration block.
This beautiful neo-classical reception room was totally conserved during the 'rehabilitation' programme.
Just a few more images of beautiful Utrecht.