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Machinic Joie de Vivre

Elizabeth Kostina

TruusSchröeder’s “vision of family life in the modern world,” is that of idea exchange between people, possible by freedom of choice.[1]

 

What is unique about the Schröeder home is that it is not just a structure. It is almost like another body with a joyful and educational personality, but it is only by interacting with the home that one is able to perceive its quirks. In this way, it too becomes living. And, we realize that the exchange has never been between people and home, but just people. As the home telescopes “individual experiences and interpersonal relationships,” it requires interaction to be understood and for its intentions to come across.[2] Here, no hierarchy between person and space is legitimized as the “human body,” (like Reitveld’s furniture) “takes on new importance” and demands to be “analyzed, disassembled, and reassembled.”[3] The individual is not crushed by the space, one is embedded into it.

 

The ‘anti-hierarchy’ is maintained as each element is carefully placed to create a “ritual of movement.”[4] Simultaneously, Schröeder’s desire for a ‘modern’ freedom is encapsulated through the home’s free space plan. By removing the mundane and “eliminating unnecessary motion by focusing on ritually repeated actions,” the home allows the space participant to ‘self-actualize.’[5] The constant tactile engagement with the partitions grounds the space participant and is what imbues the home with that “modern consciousness, a sense that daily life and values were staged and enacted in a work of architecture that was designed and built with a larger purpose in mind.”[6]

The home’s free space is analogous to a blank canvas, where “conversations could be wide-ranging, and where focused activities, including the children’s schoolwork, might also be carried out.”[7] Each activity carries with it a particular movement, a way of expression, and the free space accommodates all of them to “redefine family life, women’s rights, and the responsibilities of individuals to themselves and to each other.”[8]

Adults and children constantly flow and ebb around each other, exchanging information and ideas by virtue of their proximity.[9] [10]

The openness and airiness of the free space is of course, symbolic. It is an architecture that allows for ideas (and people) of all shapes and sizes to float and sink. Almost as if fishing - the ideas remain floating until they are caught; which was Schröeder’s desire, after all, to avoid the aftertaste of  “cultural evenings, when you come home bubbling with ideas, which have disappeared after a couple of days because you have moved on to the next subject.”[11] The site of the home, Prins Hendriklaan, speaks to this elusiveness as well; urban, suburban, and rural types reveal themselves depending on which window you look out of.[12] 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’.[13]

The physical exertions of the home to fulfill Schröeder’s ideas are in good taste - and it functions as intended, as an “intensely modern architectural environment.”[14] Modern by virtue of the physiological opportunities it grants its participants, a space “in which individuals - women, men, and children - could make choices about how they wanted to live.”[15] But also modern 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 physiological, making the home another body to interact with.

This house exudes a strong sense of joy, of real joyousness. That’s something in my nature, but here in this house it’s stimulated. And that’s absolutely a question of the proportions, and also of the light; the light in the house and the light outside. I find it very important that a house has an invigorating atmosphere; that it inspires and supports joie de vivre.[16]


[1]Friedman, Women and the Making of the Modern House. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,:1998), 66.

[2]Ibid, 68.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid, 81.

[7]Ibid, 74.

[8]Ibid, 81.

[9]Ibid, 77.

[10] As such, a comparison can be made between Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Machine’ and the Schröeder house. I feel it is fair to call the  Schröeder  house an ‘ideal type’ of machine, one that does what Wright wanted the machine to do, which was to free the individual from the mundane, generic, drudgery of creation to ‘self-actualize’ and find a voice. Corbusier’s ‘Machines for Living’ and 5 points architecture plan are also called into question here. Could we effectively reproduce the  Schröeder house given a modular kit of its elements? A free plan, a free facade, and a few colorful squares?! My instinct is no, which is why I think modernism so often has a sterility associated with it. The  Schröeder  house was successful because of its internal conditions (this ‘state’ is comparable to a human body!) of joy, produced by love of life and learning. Children’s natural curiosity and Truus’ willingness to foster that through the artists and intellectuals that passed through, the scale of her bedroom, etc. is what made the  Schröeder house ‘successful’ as a typology. Reitveld expresses this beautifully in his 1932 article, when he says 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.” (80) 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…” (68)

[11]Friedman, 78.

[12]Ibid, 74.

[13]Ibid, 80.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid.