JJP Oud, Café de Unie in Rotterdam (1925)

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A few remarks:

Very little has been written in the way of in-depth analysis of the Dutch functionalist architect JJP Oud’s Café de Unie in Rotterdam. The building caused a bit of a stir when it was first unveiled to the public in 1925. Some critics pointed out the utter contempt in which Oud seemed to hold the urban context of the building, especially given his official appointment as the city’s Chief Municipal Architect. Its bright blue and red coloring, unswerving horizontal and vertical lines, as well as its total lack of decoration, contrasted sharply with the gentle curves and ornamentation of the surrounding structures.

JJP Oud, View of the principal façade of Café de Unie, Rotterdam, Netherlands 1925 or later JJP Oud, exterior view of Café de Unie from the street, Rotterdam, Netherlands 1925 or later View of Cafe de Unie in Rotterdam, designed by the architect J.J.P Oud. Several groups stand at sides of image looking towards the photographer, 1933OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Few theoretical texts paid much attention to the building, despite its clear attempt to translate Mondrian’s principles of neoplasticism in painting into an architectural medium. More focus was given to Gerrit Rietveld’s (admittedly brilliant) Schröderhuis, built the year prior, in 1924.

Sigfried Giedion mentioned it in passing in Building in France, Building in Ferroconcrete (1928), as a counterpoint to the arts and crafts tradition represented by the French builder Robert Mallet-Stevens.

JJP Oud Cafe de Unie 1923Oud unieee4F31276_full

Alfred Barr, chief curator and organizer of the MoMA in New York, devoted a couple polite lines to its consideration:

Oud’s Café de Unie façade of 1925, done between more serious designs for Rotterdam civic housing blocks, is a frank and amusing adaptation of such paintings as Mondrian’s Composition of 1920. The lettering on this façade follows de Stijl principles of typographical layout which are classically represented by the cover of the magazine, De Stijl. This asymmetrical arrangement of letters blocked into rectangles was designed by van Doesburg early in 1921.

Despite the measured tone of these remarks, Barr apparently didn’t think much of the café. His biographer, Sybil Gordon Kantor, has him down as saying ”Oud’s Café de Unie of 1925 in Rotterdam was his most unfortunate work; it was too dependent on Mondrian in design.”

cafe_de_unie_788.16_a cafe_de_unie_788.11

Yves-Alain Bois disagrees with Barr completely on this score, incidentally. In an obscure footnote in his 1993 book Painting as Model, Bois asserts: “Oud’s Café de Unie is absolutely foreign to the principle of De Stijl…entirely based on modular repetition.”

Either way, those who were so scandalized by its appearance during the interwar period, some of whom petitioned for it to be destroyed, were unexpectedly granted their wish when the building was struck by a German bomb during an air raid in 1940. Later, in 1986, a replica of the Oud’s memorable façade was erected elsewhere in Rotterdam, where it still stands today.

15 thoughts on “JJP Oud, Café de Unie in Rotterdam (1925)

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  3. Remarkable that this cafe only excisted for less then a year (june 1925 – march 1926) before it was reworked to be a showroom.

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