In the dynamic period of the avant-garde in the art world, Gerrit Rietveld developed from a furniture maker to an architect.
In total he designed and realised more than 100 residential houses, ten larger buildings and three social housing projects.

The text below offers an overview of his work in four chapters: the early years of 1900-1924, the years 1924-1945, the post-war residential and social housing and finally larger buildings in the post-war years.

The four chapters

In the Early Years (1900-1924) Rietveld became a furniture maker, was educated in the basic subjects of design and architecture and he created a number of groundbreaking furniture designs. Gradually he shifted his work to designs for interiors and store fronts.

The Pre-war Period (1924-1945). In 1924 Rietveld handed over the furniture workshop and settled in Utrecht as an architect. His first design as such was the Rietveld Schröder house. After that he designed houses for individuals, experimented with industrial prefabricated construction and developed the idea of the ‘core house’.

In the Post-war Period and especially from the beginning of the fifties he received many commissions for the design of houses and social housing. He also received commissions to design larger buildings.

Interesting sources regarding these chapters can be in the following reading list.



Gerrit Rietveld worked at his father’s furniture workshop. They made classic furniture and also panelling for interiors. Rietveld spoke about this period: “The fact that I got rid of the old styles was not because I didn’t like them or because I couldn’t make them successfully, because I had learned the trade well. But I chose to not continue with it because it did not give me any satisfaction. I didn’t see a future in it, because everything you made in those old styles was actually worse than what people made in those times.”

From 1904 he followed evening courses in drawing, painting, moulding, technical drawing and theory of style and ornamentation. One of his teachers was P.J. Houtzagers, at that time a famous architect in Utrecht.

‘The fact that I got rid of the old styles was not because I didn’t like them … I didn’t see a future in it’

In the period 1909-1913 Gerrit Rietveld joined the firm of Begeer and designed showrooms in Louis XIV and XV style. There he met Erich Wichmann and Jan Eisenloeffel, who brought him into contact with, as Rietveld called them, ‘more modern atmospheres’. At that time Rietveld also attended evening classes with the architect P.J.C. Klaarhamer. He had a studio in the same building as Bart van der Leck and so Rietveld became acquainted with the work of this artist.

Rietveld expressed about these times: “I started to make all kinds of things for myself but first I wanted to know where to go. I immediately felt that you no longer had to work with the mass of the material but that you had to work with the space which was in it and that you therefore had to separate a space from the general space by means of boundaries which were not complete.”

At the beginning of 1919 he came into contact with members of De Stijl group through the architect van ‘t Hoff.

Rietveld stated about De Stijl: “I joined De Stijl when it already existed for 1.5 years. Very coincidentally because people saw my things and they corresponded in appearance with the creations of De Stijl members. But De Stijl had the intention to make a new style, whereas in fact I only made a study which happened to correspond with the principles of De Stijl.”

About the sideboard which Rietveld designed in 1919 immediately after the red-blue chair he said: “As a principle it had that same construction [of the red-blue chair]; the construction is not only a very typical strong construction which leaves the wood in its full strength, but at the same time it is a spatiality; the three dimensions of space are in it; so when I started to use material I always used this spatially.”

At that time Rietveld also designed a number of renovations, interiors and store facades. Begeer’s store front, for example, was built in 1919 and the store in Amsterdam of the Gold and Silversmith’s company (1921) was given a special facade during the renovation. The facade is constructed as a spatial composition of various volumes and surfaces.

The renovation of the leather store E. Wessels en Son in 1924 showed a shop window in the shape of a large glass container. The store front seems to be detached from the floor because the skylights have been moved backwards over the entire width of the building.

Two years earlier Rietveld designed the interior of the consultation room of general practitioner A.M. Hartog in Maarssen, with a desk, two straight slatted chairs, a chest of drawers and a tube lamp. This first version had four tubes, later the lamp was usually composed of three parts. An ultimate spatial object, in which the three dimensions of the space are represented.


THE PRE-WAR PERIOD (1924-1945)

In 1924 Rietveld handed the furniture workshop over to Gerard van de Groenekan, an employee of the furniture workshop from the very beginning. In 1925 he settled himself as an architect in the Rietveld Schröder house on the Prins Hendriklaan in Utrecht. It was designed in close collaboration with the commissioner Truus Schröder-Schräder.

This house immediately attracted international attention; a design in which he incorporated the ideas of De Stijl with regard to the concepts of function, construction, form and space, as well as those of functionalism.

He expressed about this design: “The house was a study for the new. The main thing was that we no longer worked with the building mass, but with the inner space which could be continued to the outside. No fixed walls either, but sliding walls. This is where all the other work originated from.”

‘The main thing was that we no longer worked with the building mass, but with the inner space which could be continued to the outside.’

Since 2000, the house has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Throughout his life, Rietveld continued to make “small things”, as he called them: furniture, chairs, serving as spatial constructions to solve all kinds of issues, which he could put to good use again in architecture. Initially this was out of necessity, because he received very few commissions. He mentioned about this:

“We had to make all kinds of small things because people in general weren’t ready yet [for his architectural designs]. Because you know, if you want something new whether you do it in politics, painting, sculpture or in architecture, the new that breaks with the old has something un-harmonious. The harmony of the past to which one is accustomed is broken and then there comes a certain opposition and that opposition has to be overcome gradually, not with too much intention. But you can’t let it go. You go on and on and although I do see it now as a line which runs through my whole life’s work, which I did not know at that time of course, I’m sure you notice. I’ve made all kinds of trials and tribulations out of chairs. First I only made small things and I solved all kinds of different problems that I could use very well later on in architecture. Of course you don’t see immediately that it can solve problems for a large building for example. And yet I did that because I had no other opportunity. You actually design a building from a certain construction and from the tasks that are imposed on such a building, all the requirements that are imposed on such a building and you don’t have those if you are going to design a building on your own. Then that study isn’t worth a penny. I’ve always been busy in life, I’ve never made studies besides the assignments. And that’s actually very good. it doesn’t make you fantasise. You stay grounded and as an architect that is of course very necessary. In general I have built mostly villas and country houses. And that was terribly nice of course to get to know the demands of living. Because someone who has some money left over to buy a piece of land and build a house for himself, who pretty much does that for himself, wants to incorporate his whole philosophy of life in it. You learn something from all those people. Although I’m not that demanding at all, from those people I have learned how a person should live and how this can be done well. And I was able to apply that later on also in the social housing and even in the residential houses, but of course that is only possible with very small pieces and chunks, because that is a very economical movement.”

During the first years of his practice as an architect he received few commissions. He built several blocks of houses in Utrecht, such as on the Erasmuslaan (1930 and 1934) and on the Schumannstraat (1931-1932).

Rietveld designed a block of four residential houses in Vienna around 1930, as one of the few foreign architects within the framework of an international Bauausstellung, the Werkbundsiedlung. He received this commission from the architect Josef Frank.

From the end of the twenties Rietveld developed a penchant for popular housing, a home for the masses, preferably industrially produced, to make life cheaper and more pleasant. Experimentation with industrial construction began at the Garage with Driver’s House on the Waldeck Pyrmontkade in Utrecht in 1927.

Rietveld wrote about this design in the avant-garde magazine i10: ‘With this construction an attempt has been made to get one step closer to the factory-built house’. It was his first experiment with an industrial, prefabricated house. A structure of steel profiles filled with factory-produced, glazed concrete facade elements measuring three by one meter. Rietveld himself described it as an ‘experiment for the industrialisation of construction’. It was a revolutionary experiment, especially given the time in which it took place.

This was followed by plans for public housing, also often intended for industrial production. Rietveld wrote in 1929 in the magazine i10: “Corporate architecture must go straight to its goal. We must help simplify life, free it from redundancies. Lighten up the work that remains through consultation, mechanisation and develop the building trade towards a well-organised industrial company with a minimum of passive and coercive work, to provide space to the free mankind…”

Around 1928 the idea for the Core House was born. In that core the front door, stairwell, toilet, kitchen, bathroom and the water, gas and electricity supplies were included.

The core could be manufactured in a factory and on the building site the rest could be added in staggered floors in a traditional way to make the most efficient use of the usable space. It is a house without corridors, with the stairs as the only traffic space. The space between the front door and the stairs is also a utility room, not a corridor or hallway. In this way, all the space is used efficiently. Unfortunately, Rietveld was unable to realise the core house plans. Only the social housing project in Reeuwijk (1958) shows characteristics of this principle.

In 1928 Rietveld was one of the founders of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) and in 1929, together with Mart Stam, he formed the Dutch delegation to CIAM ‘Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum’ in Frankfurt am Main.

Rietveld was one of the pioneers of Het Nieuwe Bouwen. From an early age he had clear views on architecture: experiencing space, prefabrication to make houses (and also furniture) available to everyone and avoiding the superfluous in order to optimise the use of space.

Rietveld went further and further in removing the boundaries between inside and outside, and he also often made use of new techniques. A subtle play of proportions, the carefully guided incidence of light and the sober finish are characteristic of his houses and buildings.

Important in Rietveld’s work, in addition to the uninterrupted space and light, is the unit of measurement. He noted: “Working well informed and really strict implementation according to units of measurement gives the structure a crystal clarity. If you see a building that has been made strictly according to a unit of measurement, you actually notice nothing about the building, but you experience a clarity that you cannot find anywhere else. This should be not only in length and width, but also in height.”

In the thirties Rietveld built houses for private individuals, especially people from his circle of friends, artists and intellectuals. People who appreciated his designs.

House Székely in Santpoort, built in 1934, shows a refined combination of rectangular and round shapes.

Huis Hildebrand, Rietveld, Blaricum. Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser.

House Hildebrand (1935) in Blaricum has a square based floor plan, with circular and rectangular extensions and a greenhouse against the rear facade. The large glass surfaces are framed in steel and the brick walls are plastered white.

The kitchen and living room are separated from each other by a cupboard wall with pass-through possibility. The kitchen has a small wooden elevator to cool food in the ground. The living room can be divided into two parts with a plywood harmonica wall. This application is also available in the main bedroom. Sliding doors for the toilet and bathroom save space. Such solutions can be seen in many Rietveld houses.

‘If you see a building that has been made strictly according to a unit of measurement … you experience a clarity that you cannot find anywhere else.’

In 1936 Rietveld rebuilt the Cinema Vreeburg in Utrecht. The facade was clad with milk glass behind which light boxes were installed. In the evening the letters ‘Bioscoop Vreeburg’, designed by Rietveld, became visible on the glass.

The interior was special, to improve the acoustics Rietveld had added Genemuider mats in the wet lime of the walls. The chairs were also designed by Rietveld, and executed by Metz & Co, with lilac coloured upholstery.

On top of the cinema Rietveld designed an apartment where he intended to live with his family. In his opinion, the interior was the ideal living environment. It consisted of one large space behind an eleven-meter wide glass wall with a view of the Vreeburg. There were alcoves which functioned as bedrooms, with only curtains as a partition to the large living space.



The number of assignments had to grow gradually, but it was not until the 1950s that Rietveld started to received more of them. This was largely due to the availability of funds for new buildings at the time, but also due to the late recognition and appreciation of his work as an innovative architect.

House Slegers (1955)

This house which included a studio in Velp is based on a one meter pattern (grid) which clearly determines the unity of the overall design. The north facade of the studio consists of a grid of four meters high, filled with windows of one by one meter. The house is limited in its size. To visually enlarge the space, the walls between the different rooms are partly made of glass.

House van den Doel in Ilpendam (1959).

This is a house with a large, high living room with panoramic views over the meadows and an open connection to the main bedroom. There are two more small bedrooms, a kitchen with dining area and a consultation room for the client, who was a surgeon. For his wife a studio towards the north of the house was designed.

The house is surrounded by terraces and stairs. There are two perpendicular walls that form an extension of the house and connect it to the garden and the polder. Rietveld considered this building as one of his most successful houses and often invited people to visit it. He himself especially appreciated the rear side, with its spacious view over the polder landscape. The locals had much less appreciation for this house and nicknamed it ‘crematorium’ because of the high black chimney.

Rietveld described the design process in the Bouwkundig Weekblad of 1960 as follows: “Due to the complete absence of disruptive covering details, all the forming parts work with the architecture of the whole; this is the result of decades of experimentation.”

Rietveld considered House van den Doel one of his most successful houses and often invited people to visit it.

Huis van Slobbe

House van Slobbe in Heerlen (1964), is situated against a slope in a hilly area and it seems to rise up from its environment. It consists of a stacking of spaces, but the facades show a tight horizontal structure.

Social Housing

Although Rietveld had a preference for social housing, he was only able to carry out a few of these projects. His many urban designs were not given a chance either.

In 1958 he was able to build about eighty houses in Nagele together with his son Jan.

In the Hoograven neighbourhood of Utrecht (1954-1957), Rietveld received his first major housing commission for 800 units of social housing. He designed these in collaboration with Hanneke Schröder and Jan van Grunsven.

In Reeuwijk Rietveld built a complex of 52 units of social housing, the so-called Om en Om houses (1957-58). The houses have each been rotated 180 degrees, so that the front and back of the houses form a wall. This project is particularly interesting because it partly stems from the core house idea; the equivalence of front and rear facades.



Rietveld built the Dutch pavilion in 1953-1954 on the Biennale grounds in Venice, together with J.B. van Grunsven and H. Schröder. The commission was given by the Ministry of Arts and Sciences.

The building has a floor plan of 16 by 16 meters and in its center there is a lower part. The space is lit by windows above the lower part and the light is softened by wooden shutters. The design is of an ingenious simplicity.

The Sonsbeek Pavilion (1955) is a building with hardly any spatial boundaries as the inside and outside merge into one another. Rietveld described: ‘Sonsbeek Pavilion, a sculpture pavilion in the Sonsbeek garden in Arnhem. This was intended as a temporary building. And I used also bricks that are generally used in housing construction as partitions, but I tilted them. The holes that have constructive intentions in those concrete slabs, I brought them forward precisely to get a nice porous surface that is not too hard in nature and yes, also to get a little openness. You shouldn’t think about something like that for long. I made this model on the train when I had a conversation with the client. I happened to have a pair of scissors and a piece of cardboard with me. At home I immediately started to work on it further. I had a lot of fun doing that. It really highlighted the sculptures. This was a piece of work I called open space art.’

After the exhibition the pavilion was unfortunately demolished. In 1964 a group of colleagues and friends conceived the plan to rebuild it in the Kröller-Müller sculpture park, as a tribute to Rietveld. He was allowed to choose the spot himself, but shortly after he passed away, so that he could no longer witness the rebuilding.

De Ploeg Factory in Bergeijk (1956-1958), is a large complex with garden/park construction by Mien Ruys. Rietveld worked with engineer G. Beltman and the management of De Ploeg and they went on a study trip together to Switzerland and Italy to gain knowledge of modern factory construction. The factory was given a shell roof, with which a large space could be spanned with relatively few columns.

The exhibition building the Zonnehof (1958-1959) in Amersfoort was commissioned by the municipality of Amersfoort. It is based on a fixed unit of measurement of three meters, both horizontally and vertically. The facades consist of alternating glass surfaces and brickwork in white or blue glazed bricks. The three meter wide glass facades are divided into three strips, each one meter wide.

This unit of measurement has also been continued in the paving around the pavilion, bringing harmony to the entire spatial composition. The most important starting point in the design is the incidence of light. The light enters through saw-tooth roofs with slats underneath and through the large glass facades on the side. Aldo van Eyck said about this design: ‘In the Zonnehof Rietveld creates space, not so much by limiting but by depicting the light.’

The building has an open gallery as a floor. To hang works of art, 6020 hooks have been applied to the walls in a pattern specially determined by Rietveld (80 per m2). Rietveld also designed the fluorescent lighting, which accentuates the modular unit. The evening before completion Rietveld designed the logo and lettering for the Zonnehof and had them applied the next day to the glass panel above the entrance.

Rietveld was commissioned in 1950 to design the Art Academy in Amsterdam; a few years later he was also commissioned to design the Art Academy in Arnhem. Rietveld considered these his most important commissions. It was a new opportunity to realise, or at least further, the principles of prefabrication and space that were important to him.

The design process in Amsterdam was complicated and lengthy, due to the lack of financial resources and the search for a suitable location. Rietveld was also looking for the right scale for a building with so many requirements for various functions. He wrote about this: ‘A well-considered room plan that fits some floor space into a construction plan; i.e. economic column distances and dimensions of the rooms have led to the same unit of measurement. Such a unit of measurement, which can also be applied vertically, gives a building sensible and calm proportions with mathematical purity. A well implemented unit of measurement is also conducive to the use of factory manufactured building elements.’ And in 1957: ‘The main construction is conceived in concrete; a middle construction collapsed on site as a backbone, with a concrete floor supporting the construction on two sides against it. The whole is protected by a glass shell.’

In the meantime Rietveld also worked on the design for the academy in Arnhem, for which he received the building commission in 1957. He wrote about this: ‘We designed the school in Arnhem as a variation to the school in Amsterdam, in order to take advantage of the larger amount of equal window and prefab concrete elements. Coincidentally, the preparation in Arnhem went more smoothly, causing the construction in Amsterdam to be realised sooner in Arnhem.’

The construction of the art academy in Arnhem began in mid 1961 and was completed in the summer of 1963.

The construction of the art academy in Amsterdam had only just begun when Rietveld passed away on June 25, 1964. In 1967 the building was inaugurated and as a tribute to the designer the name of the institute was changed to ‘Gerrit Rietveld Academie’.

The partnership Rietveld, van Dillen and van Tricht was founded on 1 January 1961. Joan van Dillen and Johan van Tricht, employees of Bureau Rietveld for many years, joined forces with Gerrit Rietveld to guarantee the continuity of the firm. Rietveld was now 72 years old.

Church de Hoeksteen in Uithoorn (1960-1965).

Rietveld accepted the commission to build the church on the condition that it would also serve other social purposes. Next to the church hall there was also a theatre, a foyer, a meeting room and a nursery.

The building is half of a cube, which together with the reflection in the water at the rear facade becomes a whole cube. For the interior of the church hall Rietveld designed the benches, a red granite, cylindrical baptismal font, a pulpit, a communion table and a chair for the reverend.

The building for the Vrije Gemeente of Amsterdam (1964-1967) was finally realised by J. van Tricht. Just before his death Gerrit Rietveld had worked out the design of this church building in detail. Like the one in Uithoorn, the space had to be suitable for music and theatre performances and there had to be smaller spaces for all kinds of socio-cultural activities, such as a nursery, a library, a youth room and various meeting and conference rooms.

Rietveld set to work, so that when he passed away in June 1964, a number of sketches and facade designs showed that the main layout and the final facade image didn’t need to be altered too much. This resulted in a characteristic Rietveld design of interlocking rectangular volumes of different sizes and heights and adding flat roofs. The building is bright and light, with open ground planes and shows a convincing spatial effect. Furthermore, there are dense facade surfaces in white glazed bricks and, above all, lots of glass in tight, thin steel frames.

In December 1967 the Vrije Gemeente officially moved into the building, also known as the Pavilion Buitenveldert.

Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh (1963-1973). Co-designers J. van Dillen and J. van Tricht, realised by J. van Tricht.

Gerrit Rietveld was commissioned by the State of the Netherlands to build the museum. The initiative was taken by Vincent van Gogh’s nephew, the son of his brother Theo. The building has three floors, the exhibition space is illuminated from above. At the top of the mezzanine, which is as high as the building, daylight enters through the 36 square skylights. This indirectly provides sufficient light for the surrounding galleries. The Van Gogh Museum was the last design by Gerrit Rietveld. He passed away just after he had finished the first sketches. The design was worked out according to these sketches by the partners of his office. The essential parts of it, such as the cube-shaped main volume, the entrance and the mezzanine with the stairs are designed by Rietveld.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1958 the magazine Forum dedicated an issue to Gerrit Rietveld with contributions of both national and international colleagues, such as Le Corbusier, Richard Neutra, Bruno Zevi, Alison and Peter Smithson, Alfred Roth, Jacobus J.P. Oud, Ben Merkelbach and Aldo van Eyck. Merkelbach wrote about Rietveld ‘…His open-mindedness goes hand in hand with an exceptional mastery of spatial design. Rietveld’s place as an architect in the Netherlands is not nearly as important as his place as an architect in the world.’