Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was a Dutch architect and furniture maker, and designer. He was born in Utrecht. Probably the most innovative and avant-garde designer of his time, Rietveld’s furniture designs were ground-breaking both visually and from a production stand-point. Even 90 years later, his chairs look as fascinating as they did back in the 20s and 30s.
Between 1899-1906, he apprenticed in his father’s cabinetmaking work-shop in Utrecht.
1906-11, trained as an architectural draftsman.
Rietveld was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s portfolio Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (1910).
In 1911, he opened his own furniture-making business in Utrecht.
1911-15, he took advanced architectural courses and built several buildings.
Rietveld was associated from its formation in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg with the De Stijl group through his friendship with Robert van t’Hoff and was a member until 1931. The association inspired him to pursue furniture design, conceived as spatial composition with little thought for comfort.
Partnership with Truus Schroder-Schrader
His architecture career began with the 1924 Schroder House, Utrecht, which he designed with Truus Schroder-Schrader, a De Stijl member with whom he collaborated from 1921. In partnership with her, Rietveld kept a studio in the house until 1932 and lived there from 1958. Their projects included the 1934 terrace of houses in the Erasmuslaan in Utrecht and the 1936 Vreeburg Cinema in Utrecht.
Rietveld also designed the 1954 Netherlands Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia, 1954 sculpture pavilion in the Sonsbeek Park in Arnheim, and 1963-72 Rijkmuseum Vincent van Gogh (with J. van Dillen and J. van Tricht) in Amsterdam.
In 1927, Rietveld designed a diagonal bent tubular steel chair.
Because of Cassina’s reproductions in the 1980s, his best-known work became the 1918 Red Blue chair incorporating 15 lintels, which explored Piet Mondrian’s colour use. However, it was first produced without colour in 1917.
Along with this skeletal chair, his 1923 Berlin chair and end table and the 1934 Zig-Zag chair became icons of 20th-century design.
His furniture inspired Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus in the early 1920s. His furniture could be seen as abstract sculptural objects with a practical function.
Like the Futurists, Rietveld preferred houses with scaffolding around them; in his Red Blue chair, the scaffolding’ holds the seat and back in place.
One of his chair models of the late 1920s was literally made from scaffolding poles clamped together. Rietveld worked with cardboard from which he made models develop his ideas rather than sketching them on paper. Though he worked chiefly in wood, he also produced furniture in bent metal tubing.
His bent tubular steel and wood easy chairs and tables were shown at the 1930 Paris exhibition. His work was the subject of the 1983 Rietveld als Meubelmaker, Wonen met Experimenten’ exhibition at the Central Museum in Utrecht, and included in the 1986 ‘Der Kragstuhl’ exhibition at the Stuhlmuseum Burg Beverungen in Berlin. First major posthumous exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 23 June-27 Sept. 1993.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
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