Machinic Joie de Vivre – on the Schröeder House

The Schröder house was designed by Gerrit Reitvald for Truus Schröder-Schräder - a Dutch sociolite, designer, feminist, and mother of three. It is designed in the 'De Stijl' or neoplasticism style and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This essay is a commentary on Truus' “vision of family life" and how the Schröder home reflects them.

Machinic Joie de Vivre

Truus Schröeder’s “vision of family life in the modern world,” is exemplified by idea exchange facilitated by the home.§

What is unique about the Schröeder home is that it is not just a structure. It is almost like another body, a living architecture with a joyful and educational personality. The home telescopes “individual experiences and interpersonal relationships,” and it requires interaction to be understood, for it to ‘enter into itself.’§ It is only by interacting with the home that one is able to perceive its quirks and actively help shape the home - this is how the house becomes living. As the house is in itself an ‘individual’, the person-space interaction is actually subverted into a person-person relationship; one that is emblematic of a caregiver’s protective warmth. Thus, the individual is not crushed by the space but welcomed, embedded into it, like a hug. 

The house must maintain this protective - yet friendly - duality. The street facade of the house, in its hues of grey and white imposes a visual solidness that feels almost like armor. The placement of the windows and the balcony on the second levels gives the impression that the street remains under surveillance from the house. Yet, the oddly playful geometric shapes break up any association with traditional architectural facades or typological associations, which gives the house an uncharted freedom of expression and experimentation in its very character.

The site of the home, Prins Hendriklaan, speaks to this dual elusiveness as well; urban, suburban, and rural types reveal themselves depending on which window you look out of.§ Rietveld's clever design of two fronts, one suited to the neighbors and one with a formal entrance, as well as the affinity to Schorder’s childhood home, speaks allegorically to Schröeder’s vision: one of free idea exchange and a ‘joie de vivre’ while managing this needed protective aura.§

The desire to allow for free idea exchange is symbolized through the home’s liberal usage of free space. Free space is where “conversations could be wide-ranging, and where focused activities... might also be carried out.”§ Each activity carries with it a particular movement, a way of expression. The free space accommodates all of them. It is by this that the free space acts as a medium where ideas float, percolate, and concurrently function as a space that gives permission for these types of activities to occur at all.The free space allows for adults and children to constantly flow and ebb around each other, exchanging information and ideas by virtue of their proximity.§

The free-idea exchange is communicated not just in the openness of its ceilings, but also in the careful positioning of each element to create a “ritual of movement.” Schröeder’s desire for a ‘modern’ freedom is encapsulated through the home’s free space plan. By removing the mundane, “ritually repeated actions,” and forcing (or allowing) constant choice to occur, imbuing individuals with an environmental agency, the home allows the space participant to self-actualize; which is also paradigmatic of the caregiver.§

As the free space is exemplary of its own type of freedom, so are the partitions that are used in the home. The constant tactile engagement with the partitions ground the space participant in the home’s paradoxical materiality; as one moves the partitions back and forth, one is forced (or ‘asked’) to make the choice for privacy. Ultimately, this is what imbues the home with that “modern consciousness,” the idea of which is that the home “was designed and built with a larger purpose in mind,” one that is clearly rooted in protected freedom of choice for Schröeder. §

Children’s natural curiosity and Truus’ willingness to foster that is what made the Schröeder house ‘successful’. Reitveld expresses this beautifully in his 1932 article, where he notes that architecture has been liberated from “the plastic dimension… the building… is in active relationship to human beings… will then have to adopt an active attitude towards it in order to be able to experience its qualities.”§ Ironically, too, when Reitveld first began the project the process of architecture, for him, was like “assembling a kit of parts - sections of flat wall, thin metal or wooden supports.”§ Could we effectively reproduce the Schröeder house given a modular kit of its elements? A free plan, free facade, some Rietvaldian furniture, and a few colorful squares?! No. The Schröeder house was successful because of its homeostatic condition - that of a body keeping itself in equilibrium with its commitment to protection, and freedom for curiosity. 

The physical exertions of the home to fulfill Schröeder’s anti-hierarchical ideas are in good taste - and as such, it functions as intended, as an “intensely modern architectural environment.”§ Modern by virtue of the physiological opportunities it grants its participants, a space where all “could make choices about how they wanted to live.”§ Modern, also, because Schröeder’s vision, and even a very deep part of herself, was communicated through the home. She was the client and the designer and her joyousness carried throughout making the home a home. 

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