In 2017, Holland celebrated 100 years of ‘De Stijl’ (The Style), considered the country’s most important contribution to 20th century culture. Characterised by straight horizontal and vertical lines and a combination of black, white, grey and primary colours, the movement’s central theme – How can design shape the society of the future? – has been taken up by today’s Dutch designers, who continue the tradition of blending form and function, while events such as the annual Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven encapsulate and celebrate it.
Originally the name of a magazine founded in 1917 by two pioneers of abstract art, Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondriaan (he later changed it to Mondrian to sound more French), De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour. It had a profound influence on the development of abstract art and modern architecture. Other members of the group included painter/designer Bart van der Leck and architect Gerrit Rietveld. (Mondrian later withdrew from De Stijl following van Doesburg’s adoption of diagonal elements in his work!)
Dutch Design Week
What began as a one-day event in 1998 to introduce local designers to entrepreneurs has grown into the biggest design event in Northern Europe. Every year in Eindhoven, Dutch Design Week looks at the ways in which designers are studying and shaping the future, making it unique among design events. Taking a solution-oriented approach unhindered by convention, there is also an emphasis on experiment, innovation and cross-overs, with particular attention spent on developing young talent. (The Design Academy Eindhoven is one of Europe’s most important.)
In a test case for involving residents in the design of buildings – and hence, cities – of the future, last year hundreds of volunteers helped to create the People’s Pavilion, a temporary structure built from materials supplied by the city’s inhabitants, including plastic waste which was converted into tiles by a method developed by local designers. The building, which also incorporated borrowed materials which were returned to the owners after the event, hosted community gatherings, lectures and performances. Click here for more. Oct 20-28
Keen to enhance its reputation as a design centre, the Eindhoven city council provides designers with low rent premises, many of them in the former industrial complex known as Strijp-S. One of them is Piet Hein Eek, whose studio-factory in a former Philips factory (the Dutch technology company was founded in Eindhoven) specialises in ‘upcycling’, using available resources such as ceramic, metal, upholstery, wood and glass to make everything from furniture and lighting to home accessories and games tables. Everything is hand-made in-house from design to final product. There is also an exhibition space, where displays change every three to four months.
A new public artwork was revealed during the 2017 Dutch Design Week in the renovated passenger tunnel at Eindhoven train station. Created by artist Daan Roosegaarde, whose studio develops projects which merge technology and art in urban environments, ‘Space’ is an interactive, 90-metre long lightwork based on nocturnal maps of Earth, where light sources make man’s presence visible. Using a specialised printing technique on lenses to create the illusion of depth, images of the Earth recorded by NASA space agency satellites were digitally edited into a composite 3D image to create what Roosegaarde calls “techno poetry”.
Every November Eindhoven is beautifully illuminated during Glow, an international light art festival when the streets are filled with installations by light artists from all over the world. The 2017 event drew over 700,000 visitors to walking routes featuring over 30 projects. Nov 10-17
Elsewhere in the Netherlands, there are several significant displays and landmarks associated with De Stijl.
In the central Netherlands city of Utrecht, the country’s oldest municipal museum, the Centraal Museum owns the world’s biggest collection of items designed by Gerrit Rietveld, most notably the Rietveld chair, one of the icons of the De Stijl movement. Designed in 1918/19 (although it did not acquire its famous colours of red, blue and yellow until 1923), an outsize replica of it stands proudly in the city centre.
Owned and administered by the Centraal Museum, the Rietveld Schröder House is the most famous house in Utrecht and the architectural highlight of De Stijl. Built in 1924 for owner Truus Schröder, the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site is open by appointment for guided visits. As well as his famed chair and house, Rietveld realised over a hundred buildings and many furniture pieces and is as revered in the Netherlands for his contribution to 20th century architecture and design as his contemporaries Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier are in their homelands.
Utrecht also has its light show, although you won’t have to wait until it comes around once a year. Every day as soon as the sun sets, Trajectum Lumen comes to life. Following orange lights embedded in the road, the route takes in artistically illuminated bridges, churches and canals around the city centre.
In the northern province of Friesland, Drachten is where Theo van Doesburg received his first big commission in 1921 – the colour design for a row of 16 middle class homes. One of them, the Van Doesburg-Rinsema Huis, is in the process of being faithfully restored based on original plans and illustrations and can be visited with a guide by appointment. Van Doesburg aimed for equality between architecture and decor and saw a room as like a 3D painting, with a harmony of colour to make its inhabitants feel more harmonious. For more click here.