Mondrian returned to Paris in 1919 to continue his search for purity and abstraction, but the other Dutch artists stayed behind in Holland to pursue what was becoming a new and unique style in architecture that developed independently of the Bauhaus and of Le Corbusier’s “Purism.” That said, De Stijl architecture was not unrelated to modern architecture elsewhere in Europe in that the hallmark of early twentieth architecture was plain white walls free of ornamentation. However, the source of influences for the De Stijl style was painting on one hand, the ideals of Dutch culture on the other, and, most importantly, the use of bright primary colors. The use of color was of great significance, setting De Stijl architecture apart from its Modernist counterparts, which favored the use of blinding white to signify the “modern.” Ironically, both De Stijl and Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius, proponents of white as a non-color color and the use of primary colors in De Stijl architecture came from similar sources. De Stijl sought universality though basic shapes and primary colors and the foundational direction lines of vertical and horizontal, while the other architects sought “timelessness,” by separating architecture from “fashion” or to put it another way—by removing architecture from the dangers of a period style and placing it into a zone of timelessness.

The counterpoint to the desired state of pure abstraction was fickle fashion and its ever changing and uncomfortable demands. As long as architecture was a slave to styles (fashion), it would never arrive at and realize its true nature. As pointed out in the discussion of Adolf Loos and his essay on ornamentation and decoration, an evolution towards the modern necessitated the relinquishment of the delights of excessive clothing. When the architecture of Loos was first seen in Vienna before the Great War, its stark white surfaces seemed immodest, unclothed, and, therefore, scandalous. According to Mark Wigley’s highly influential book of essays, White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture of 1996, white walls in architecture became (rather like Chanel’s “little black dress”) a “garment,” so to speak, for architecture that referenced the dress reform movement in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century as anti-fashion. In the same way that women’s garments had to be modernized or “reformed,” architecture also had to be freed of historicizing and eclectic embellishments and stripped down to its essence.  

Although the Schröder House in Utrecht is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, it is not generally known that this domestic home was based upon the theories of how to raise a child. We know more about the details of the design by the architect Gerritt Rietveld () than the ideas of Truss Schröder, his client whose concepts drove these details. The Schröder House was a response to his client and her demands. To make the connection between the architecture and the children, it is necessary to start with Truss Schröder herself. Therefore the story of the famous Schröder House in Utrecht began years before Gerritt Rietveld designed the home for Truss Schröder and her children in 1924. Today this home is cherished as being one of the most authentic examples of De Stijl architecture in that it expressed the Neo-Plasticism of Piet Mondrian and experimental modern living combined into one domestic domicile. 

Viewed in context, at the end of a street in Utrech, the blindingly white Schröder House touched with red, blue and yellow details here and there, stands out, out of place, with the dark traditional Dutch town houses that flank it. The pure white home is one story lower than the three-story homes to which it is connected. Clearly, the 1924 plan is from another mindset, another time, another place. The Schröder children—the subjects of the architectural experiment–was ashamed to admit that they lived in the “looney house.” However, their home was the result of a long debate between their parents over how they should be raised. Truss Schrader married Fritz Schröder in 1911, and, according to the conventions of the time, they lived where the husband chose, in the rather provincial town of Utrecht. But Truss was too sophisticated for her time and town, and, when she insisted on raising her children according to theory, her husband objected and called her attention to reality or the prevailing mores of the time in which their children lived. The Schröder House would be the result of their ongoing quarrels. 

The debate over how the Schröder children should be raised was not the only point of contention for the couple. Apparently, there were tussles over how women, modern women, should live. It should be said that this question was not one that troubled men before the Great War, but women thought about their status in the modern world a great deal. Truss Schröder had a sister, An, who lived in Amsterdam, enjoying a far more modern lifestyle, associating with advanced thinkers and artists such as Theo van Doesburg, Bruno Taut and Kurt Schwitters. Truss met her sister’s friends, enjoyed their company, and chaffed at the confines of Utrecht. Although her husband did not agree with her advanced ideas, he was sympathetic to her restlessness and agreed to her having a room of her own, designed to her own tastes and needs. It was he who suggested Gerritt Rietveld as an architect for the small project. 

A War intervened and a blank space masks the marriage and then Fritz Schröder died, after which, Truss gained full control over her own life and the rearing of her children. Wanting a smaller home, something quite different from her bourgeois existence, she asked Rietveld to build a new for a modern family headed by a modern woman in a modern world. It is not clear why the widow decided to remain in Utrecht rather than join her sister in Amsterdam, but she and the architect found an unpromising site. Rietveld made it clear that the site on the outskirts was, as he said, “rural,” meaning that the brown companions to the home today must have arrived later. “It was a deserted place,” he said. Rietveld added, “that’s always been my main aim: to give a yet unformed space a certain meaning.” So, from a scrap of urban wasteland, the Schröder House sprang up. 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.
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