Mondrian: Order and randomness in abstract painting

Meyer Schapiro
Modern Art
(Nov. 1978)
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Mondrian’s abstract paintings appeared to certain of his contemporaries extremely rigid, more a product of theory than of feeling. One thought of the painter as narrow, doctrinaire, in his inflexible commitment to the right angle and the unmixed primary colors. We learn that he broke with a fellow-artist and friend who had ventured to insert a diagonal in that fixed system of vertical and horizontal lines. “After your arbitrary correction of Neo-Plasticism,” he wrote to van Doesburg, “any collaboration, of no matter what kind, has become impossible for me,” and withdrew from the board of the magazine De Stijl, the organ of their advanced ideas.1

Yet in the large comprehensive shows of his art one discovers an astonishing range of qualities, a continuous growth from his twenties to his last years in fertile response to the new art of others and to a new milieu. Even while holding strictly to the horizontal and vertical in the painted lines, Mondrian brought back the abhorred diagonal in the frequent diamond shape of a square canvas. Diagonal axes are implicit too in his placing of paired colors. And in his late work he deviated from his long-held principle of the single plane by interlacing the lines to suggest a layered grid in depth. If his abstract paintings of the 1920s and 1930s seem dogmatically limited in their straight forms, these constant elements, through carefully pondered variation of length, thickness, and interval, compose a scale of forces that he deploys in always individual combinations. When studied closely, the barest works, with only a few units, reveal his canny finesse in shaping a balanced order; that variety in the sparse and straight is a ground of their continuing fascination. One need not analyze that structure, however, to sense its precision and strength. These qualities come to the eye directly like the harmony of a Greek temple. His gravely serious art unites in its forms the large regularities of architecture as a canonical constructed order with a complexity of relations inherited from the painting of nature and the city scene. The persisting white field, in heightened contrast to the black lines, is a luminous ground — it has what may be called after Keats: “the power of white Simplicity” — and, in its division by those lines, provides a measure of the rhythm of the enclosing rectangles.

Like Picasso’s art, Mondrian’s would have to be characterized very differently according to one’s choice of a particular phase as typical. Before the constructive abstract art by which he is best known, his works had been in turn impressionistic, romantic, lyrical, visionary, and symbolic; and in his last years, at seventy, after that severely intellectual style, his paintings became surprisingly sensuous and elated. In assimilating before 1914 the most advanced art of his time, he stood out unmistakably as a painter with his own qualities and powers. Moving from Holland to Paris and later to London and New York, this ascetic artist reacted to each new environment with a quiet enthusiasm, inventing new features that transformed the face of his art. When he worked in the style of Picasso and Braque in 1911 to 1913, he was not far behind them, having absorbed the most recent stage of their rapidly evolving art, and was soon able to move on to more strictly abstract forms of his own invention. Mondrian’s warm embrace of Cubism was the more surprising since he was forty then, with a long-matured practice that would have seemed to discourage the change to a style so different in principle from his own. Even more remarkable is that in adopting this challenging art from painters younger than himself, he derived from it conclusions still more radical, which were to stimulate and guide painters in Europe and America in the following decades. His later work was an outcome of reflection and a firm will to rigor, in keeping with a philosophizing habit and long meditated ideals. Few artists in our century have displayed so ardent a growth.

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Mondrian wrote in more than one article that his goal was to achieve an art of “pure relations.” These, he believed, had been “veiled” in older painting by the particulars of nature which could only distract the viewer from the universal and absolute in art, the true ground of aesthetic harmony.

I wish in this essay to explore closely several of his abstract works in order to bring into clearer sight the character of those “pure relations” and to show their continuity with structures of representation in the preceding art. For this a minute analysis is necessary. It may be tedious or seem superfluous to one who grasps with feeling the order of a work of Mondrian on immediate view. I shall risk it in the belief that it will also bring us nearer to his sensibility and thought.

In a painting of 1926 in the Museum of Modern Art labeled Composition in White and Black, what seems at first glance a square set within a diamond square — a banal motif of decorators and doodlers — becomes to the probing eye a complex design with a subtly balanced asymmetry of unequal lines. We see the square as partly covered and extending into an imaginary field beyond the diamond canvas. If modeling and perspective have been given up, another cue for depth comes into play in this flat painting on the impenetrable plane of the canvas: the overlapping of forms. The intercepting edge advances and the intercepted square recedes as if passing underneath the edge. The whole appears then as a cropped representation of an object in a three-dimensional space. The missing parts are cut off from view at the limits of the diamond field. Only at the upper left corner of the square is the angle closed; but its vertical and horizontal lines cross at that point and are prolonged just enough for us to suppose that what we first perceived as a partly masked square belongs to a larger whole, a lattice or grid formed by bars of varied thickness.2 We are induced by that single crossing to imagine a similar completion of the other bars and their continuity beyond the square. The black grid seems to exist in a space between the plane of the diamond and the white voids enclosed by the painted bars.

Even if we fix our attention on the canvas as a limited plane surface with a painted set of flat marks complete in themselves as a balanced asymmetric design, another mode of spatial intuition is soon aroused: our habitual response to recognizably incomplete forms. The black bars are envisioned unreflectively as parts of a whole continuing beyond the limits of the overlapping diamond field, although no familiar object has been depicted (unless we regard the thick lines of the “abstract” square as a concrete object like the surface of the canvas itself). Each black line is seen then as an intercepted side of a complete square, just as in a perspective view we identify a partly covered object with its whole. The diamond form of Mondrian’s canvas reinforces this effect by the strong contrast of its diagonal edges with the painted lines of the square and by providing between the angles, and especially those above and below, a much greater span than between the parallel lines of the inscribed form. The latter stands out even more decidedly from a larger field in which two lines of the square cross and four triangles are marked as opposing shapes.

Continue reading

Mondrian, and on and on

Obituary of Mondrian

Clement Greenberg
The Nation, NYC
March 4, 1944
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Piet Mondrian, the great Dutch painter, died in New York on February 1 at the age of seventy-one. He came to this country two years ago from London, where he had been living since 1939, after twenty years spent in France.

Mondrian was the only artist to carry to their ultimate and inevitable conclusions those basic tendencies of recent Western painting which cubism defined and isolated. His art has influenced design and architecture more immediately than painting but remains easel painting nevertheless, with all the concentrated force and drama the form requires. At the same time it designates the farthest limit of easel painting. Those whose point of departure is where Mondrian left off will no longer be easel painters. Excluding everything but flat, unmodulated areas of primary color and rectilinear and rectangular forms, his art returns painting to the mural — the mural as a living, modern form, to the archaeological reconstruction of Puvis de Chavannes, [Diego] Rivera, and the WPA projects. I am not sure whether Mondrian himself recognized it, but the final intention of his work is to expand painting into the décor of the manmade world — what of it we see, move in, and handle. This means imposing a style on industry, and thus adumbrates the most ambitious program a single art has ever ventured upon.

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Mondrian’s own explicit intentions were somewhat different. There is no need to take his metaphysics on its own terms, but it certainly helps us to understand the creation of his masterpieces. He said that his art was concerned with mans deliverance from “time and subjective vision which veil the true reality.” — I quote from his essay “Toward the True Vision of Reality”:

Plastic art affirms that equilibrium can only be established through the balance of unequal but equivalent oppositions. The clarification of equilibrium through plastic art is of great importance for humanity. It reveals that although human life in time is doomed to disequilibrium, notwithstanding this, it is based on equilibrium…If we cannot free ourselves, we can free our vision.

Mondrian’s pictures attempt to balance unequal forces: for example, one area, smaller than another, is made equivalent by shape and spatial relations. Further:

At the moment, there is no need for art to create a reality of imagination based on appearances, events, or traditions. Art should not follow the intuitions relating to our life in time, but only those intuitions relating to true reality.

In other words, the vision of space granted by plastic art is a refuge from the tragic vicissitudes of time. Abstract painting and sculpture are set over against music, the abstract art of time in which we take refuge from the resistance of space.

Mondrian’s painting, however, takes its place beside the greatest art through virtues not involved in his metaphysics. His pictures, with their white grounds, straight black lines, and opposed rectangles of pure color, are no longer windows in the wall but islands radiating clarity, harmony, and grandeur — passion mastered and cooled, a difficult struggle resolved, unity imposed on diversity. Space outside them is transformed by their presence. Continue reading

El Lissitzky, About Two Squares (1922)

spring-2008_hgd_poster

This short book, intended for children of all ages, is perhaps the best-known work of El Lissitzky (1890-1941). Lissitzky was a Russian artist, architect, designer, typographer, and photographer who was active in the avant-garde movement that flourished in Soviet Russia and in Germany, until the dominance of Socialist Realism by 1930 put a stop to its revolutionary activity. He directly influenced the typographical and display advertising innovations of the Bauhaus and De Stijl. This book entirely integrates modern typographical effects, as Lissitzky intended, with his illustrations in the Suprematist style.

The original book About Two Squares was printed by letterpress, even the slanted text and illustrations. It was first produced (“constructed”) in 1920 at the Soviet art institute UNOVIS in Vitebsk, and around April 1922 printed by Sycthian Press, Berlin, by Haberland Printers, Leipzig, in paperback, with 50 hardbound copies autographed and numbered, as the copyright page states.

A Dutch edition, published as Suprematisch worden van twee kwadraten in 6 konstrukties, edited by Theo van Doesburg, was published in The Hague by De Stijl, 1922. In October/November of that year, it appeared as a regular edition of De Stijl, vol 5 no 10/11. Also, 50 hardbound copies of the Dutch edition were numbered and signed by the author.

  1. About 2 Squares
    El Lissitzky
  2. To all, to all children
  3. El Lissitzky
    A suprematist story — about two squares.
    In 6 constructions: Berlin, Skythen, 1922.
  4. Don’t read this book Take —
    paper…fold
    rods…color
    blocks of wood…build
  5. here ARE
    …………two
    ………squares
  6. flying toward the Earth
    ……………………………from far away
  7. and see
    the black restlessly
  8. craSH — scattering everywhere
  9. and upon the black
    ………………………the Red establishes itself clearly
  10. So it ends —
    ……………further on
  11. UNOVIS
    constructed 1920, vitebsk

CRI_227458 pro02 pro03pro04 pro05 pro07 pro09 pro11 pro13 pro15 pro17 pro18 Continue reading

Rietveld’s Schröderhuis in Utrecht (1924)

Exterior view of the northeast façade of Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, 1925 Blitz, E.A. von  View of the southwest façade of Schröder House from the street, Utrecht, Netherlands, 1925

Jean-Louis Cohen
The Future of Architecture
Since 1889
(Lonon: 2012)
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The cabinetmaker Gerrit Rietveld, who had briefly made copies of Frank Lloyd Wright’s furniture for Robert van’t Hoff, was involved with De Stijl’s activities from the beginning. He conceived furniture prototypes composed of basic shapes — wood planes and standard profiles — sliced in ways that visually extended the volume of the objects. His most provocative piece from this period was the Red and Blue Armchair of 1918, which he later explained “was made to the end of showing that a thing of beauty, e.g., a spatial object, could be made of nothing but straight, machined materials.”

Rietveld, who rejected the inhibiting patronage of [Theo] van Doesburg, gave the most convincing interpretation of De Stijl’s longing for a synthesis of the arts with his Schröder house (1924) in Utrecht. Located at the end of a row of banal brick buildings, the house plays with vertical and horizontal planes in three dimensions. Individually, the rooms are very small but flow into each other. Sliding partitions make it possible to modify the floor plans of the two main levels, which are partly lit by a small skylight. The intersection of planes and linear elements and the articulation of joints and railings make the house’s interior spaces as difficult to grasp from the inside as they are from the outside. Walls are no longer the single determining factor of space. Actually very compact, the house was not intended to be a manifesto for an aesthetic reinterpretation of domestic functions but rather, according to Rietveld, to create formal clarity and intensify the experience of space.

Projects by the Vienna-based artist and architect Frederich Kiesler, invited in 1923 to join De Stijl, seem to echo Rietveld’s furniture and to transform it into broader, more inclusive spatial systems: the Leger- und Trägersystem, a flexible and independent hanging system for gallery displays, and the Raumbühne, or space stage, were constructed at the Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik (Exhibition of New Theater Technology) in Vienna in 1924; while the “City in Space” appeared at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.

Schwitters, Kurt  Exterior view of the southwest and southeast façades of Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, 1924 Schwitters, Kurt  Exterior view of the northeast façade of Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, 1924FotoFotoFotoFoto

Kleinbeeld Foto Kleinbeeld Foto KleinbeeldFoto Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Theo van Doesburg, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst (1925)

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Below is an article written in memoriam of De Stijl founder Theo van Doesburg upon his death in 1931. It discusses his pivotal intervention in the life of the Bauhaus, where Dexel was a student. In between there are reproduced all 72 pages from his Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst (1925), published as part of the Bauhausbücher series.
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Theo van Doesburg

Walter Dexel
Das Neue Frankfurt
Vol. 4, №. 6 (1931)

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On March 7, Theo van Doesburg died at Davos. He was a highly significant and almost a tragic figure, since the opportunity to realize his potential to the full was largely denied him — a fact that is hard to understand if one looks at some of those who are permitted to work.

He was a painter, an architect, a typographer, and from 1917 the founding editor of the magazine De Stijl, the first ever to campaign consistently for new formal design. (The cover of De Stijl remains an exemplary piece of modern typography — think of the visual changes that have overtaken our periodicals in the past decade, and you have one small illustration of Van Doesburg’s startling anticipation of present-day design principles.). He fought in the foremost ranks of the Dutch shock troops alongside Mondrian, Oud, Rietveld, Wils, Huszár, Van t’Hoff and others. What they stand for is well known. Now that he is dead, let us reflect for a moment on what we in Germany owe to Doesburg. Historical justice and the memory of an important man demand that we remember.

In 1921 Theo van Doesburg came to Weimar, with his vital energy and his clear critical mind — Weimar, where the Bauhaus had been in existence since 1919, and where a considerable number of modern artists were living, attracted by the wind of progress that used to blow — in those far-off days — through Thuringia. The credit for inviting Doesburg to Weimar goes to Adolf Meyer; straightforward, phlegmatic, and consistent, Meyer never diverged from the straight line that led from the buildings designed in cooperation with Gropius in Cologne and Alfeld to the works of his later, mature period in Frankfurt. The teaching appointment as such was not a success, since it proved impossible to bridge the gap between Doesburg’s views and those of the then dominant Bauhaus personalities. Continue reading

The transformation of the Aubette in Strasbourg (1926-1928)

Theo van Doesburg
Het Bouwbedrijf: Vol. 6, № 6
March 1929, pgs. 116-122
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The mass, the opposition of the colors, the play of light give depth to certain surfaces, instill infinite values in all modulations of I don’t know what secret architecture, which is the gift of genius.

— H.A.C., in Les demières Nouvelles

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The structure on the Place Kléber in Strasbourg, named “Aubette” is the remnant of a large but straggling monastic complex, dating from the thirteenth century; most of the buildings were demolished in the sixteenth century (1552). The remaining ones were adapted to military use. In 1764, in connection with the construction of new highways, the French architect Blondel was commissioned to build a structure on the Place Kléber which could serve as a model for the style of that time. Blondel, nicknamed “The Straightener,” encompassed the entire straggling complex in the enormous façade, which even now occupies nearly the full Northern side of the Place Kléber. This complex was named “Obet,” later “Aubette.” For nearly a century the building was used for military purposes, until in 1845 a café (Café Cade) was established there, to which in 1867 a concert hail was added, which served for quite a long time as a music school. In 1869 the Aubette was acquired by the city, which turned it partly into a museum in which paintings by famous masters were housed. A year later it was burned by the Germans, not a single artwork being saved. Only Blondel’s façade survived.

Aubette, Place Kléber, Straatsburgstrasbourg-place-kleber-petain-troops-25-11-1918 1Fi26_3

In 1911 the Place Kléber was to undergo an important renovation, in which no less than 46 architects would take part. However, the plans, now kept in the city archives, were never executed and thus the Aubette remained an undistinguished, neglected building, disgracing the square rather than enhancing it.

Just as the Aubette in Strasbourg was transformed in the course of time in accordance with the circumstances and the needs of the time, so the building presently has had to conform to contemporary needs. The Aubette, and primarily the right wing, has changed into an amusement center. In 1921 the developers Horn and Heitz Brothers leased the building from the city for a period of ninety years. The city stipulated, however, that no essential changes could be made in the façade, this being a Monument historique. Except for the marquee over the terrace, 53 m in length, which links the halls looking out on the square, and for the modern electric light sign on the façade, nothing on the exterior was changed. Nevertheless, the tall plate glass panes of the Five O’clock and the adjoining cafés, which are mounted in thin iron frames, give the façade a modern look. Originally, I had wanted the neon sign to run the length of the entire façade, but the city government, which is even now in litigation with the developers because the strictly horizontal, dominating marquee over the terrace does not correspond to the style of the eighteenth century, refused Its permission.

Plattegrond van de kelder, Aubette Plattegrond van de café-ruimtes, AubettePlattegrond van de entresol, Aubette

The developers — one of them, Mr. Paul Horn, is himself an architect — originally did not know what to do with the many halls. The projects designed during the first five years with the assistance of many architects-decorators were not executed. Among these there were all kinds of “modern” and “classic” style variations, with Biedermeier prevailing. On paper, the Aubette traversed all styles, from Empire to Jugendstil, and as they say, the realization was mainly prevented by the high costs and by the monetary instability of that time. Mr. Paul Horn had seen to it that the foundations were reinforced and had combined many smaller rooms into a few large ones. In short, the rough work had already been prepared when I got involved with the Aubette in September 1926. The Horn brothers invited me to come to Strasbourg and, encouraged by the possibility to realize my ideas about interior design on a grand scale and without restrictions, I accepted the commission to transform the principal halls in a modern sense, architecturally as well as aesthetically.

The first task was the design of new floor plans in accordance with the location and purpose of the various halls. These designs were approved by the city as well as by the developers without important changes. Here I operated in the most functional manner, but how could one possibly define a priori the whole life and activities in such a building before learning how they actually develop. The floor plans undeniably bore the mark of metropolitan activities, while I avoided defining function and purpose too strictly.

Theo van Doesburg, Sophie Tauber-Arp, and Jean Arp in Strassburg (1926)

I set myself the task of creating a galeria, aiming at connections between the spaces, which would allow the public to come and go, without the necessity of remaining in any one of the halls for a long time. The existing arcade, which separates the right wing from the left, connecting the main entrance at the square with one of the main streets in the center, facilitated this task. This arcade gives entrance to the spaces on the ground floor: cafés, restaurants, the Five O’clock (with decorations by Mrs. Täuber-Arp), pastry shop, bar, and service quarters with elevator.

Also to the stairwell, leading to the Caveau-Dancing and the upper floors. In order to assist the public in finding their bearings I placed an information chart at the main entrance of the arcade. Every section bears a number of a definite shape and color, while this same sign is clearly visible at the entrance to each room.

Located on the ground floor are the arcade, café-brasserie, café-restaurant, tearoom, the Aubette bar and a service area. In the basement are the telephone booths, toilets, coat rooms, the American bar and the Cabaret-Dance hall, painted by Hans Arp. On the mezzanine are located: toilets, coat rooms and a billiards room. On the first floor above ground level are the Cinéma-Dancing-Cabaret,a small and a large function room, and a service area. On the level above that are located the apartments of the director and the permanent staff; also the store rooms for provisions. In the adjoining rooms are the offices, while the enormous kitchens and the cooling installations are on the mezzanine.

The principal materials used for the interiors, in accordance with modern requirements, are: concrete, iron, plate glass, aluminum, nickel, hard caoutchouc (used for the first time by me for stair banisters and bars on doors), terrazzo, rabitz, linoleum, parquet, tiles, duralumin, lincrusta, ripolin, frosted glass, rubber, leather, enamel, silver leaf etc, I avoided the use of wood as much as possible: the doors are all executed in iron and plate glass without subdivisions. The windows and doors giving onto the arcade were extended up to the ceiling, making for maximal light, transparency and orderliness. Hereby the annoying space between ceiling and window and between ceiling and door was eliminated. Continue reading

The city as a regulated industry: Cornelis van Eesteren and urban planning

Umberto Barbieri
Urbanista revista
№ 8, June 1989
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to be completely elementarily experienced again, and only by elementary means can beauty be attained again. In the first place it is a question of proportion, not of form. (…)

The drawings only indicate an idea of the form, the embryo of the form.

Cor. v. Eesteren, “Moderne Stedebouwbeginselen
in de Practijk,” De Stijl, vol. VI. № 10/11 (1925)

Cornelis van Eesteren won the 1921 Prix de Rome award for architecture with his design for an Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts in Amsterdam. This design, made while he was still a student, has a classical layout, characterized by symmetry, monumentality, and decorative elements. His prize was a bursary to travel to Germany and Scandinavia in order to study the use of brick in architecture.

Van Eesteren’s stay in Berlin, one of the stops on his European trip, provided his first confrontation not only with the reality of the big city, but also with the culture of the avant-garde.

He met Hans Richter and Adolph Behne, who advised him to continue his studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. That is where he met Theo van Doesburg for the first time, marking the start of a “relationship” that was to last until 1925. Van Eesteren’s interim report to the Prix de Rome commission for the purpose of extending his bursary demonstrated his interest in the subject of urban construction: his reflections on Berlin, for instance, revealed his specific observation of that city, focussed on the way traffic functioned and on city zoning.

In 1923 a number of parameters could already be observed in van Eesteren’s work pertaining to ideas about urban planning such as the differentiation of residential and working districts, a redefinition of the historical center, the links between the various functions and the regulation of the use of land. A start to putting this approach to the urban phenomenon into actual practice was made in 1929, the year van Eesteren was given a job at the recently-established Department of Urban Development in Amsterdam. In the meantime he had experimented on various scales and in various situations with constructing and deconstructing architectonic material.

His collaboration with van Doesburg was of crucial importance for this examination.

As stated above, the Weimar encounter of May 4th 1922 between van Eesteren and the founder of De Stijl marked the  start of an intense association in theoretical and design matters. Together they developed the famous Stijl models (the Rosenberg house, a private residence and an artist’s house) which were exhibited in 1923 at the Stijl show in Rosenberg’s Paris gallery. They composed manifestos for the occasion, heralding the second, constructive period of De Stijl. The first declaration proclaimed the end of destruction and the beginning of the great age of construction. It was folio wed by the manifesto Towards a Plastic Architecture, published in 1924, in which van Doesburg announced the new architecture to be elementary, i.e. developed from elements of construction in the widest sense. These elements such as: function, mass, plane, time, space, light, color, material, etc., are also plastic elements. Continue reading

Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam (1926-1930)

Manfredo Tafuri
Francesco Dal Co
Modern Architecture

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Between 1926 and 1930, Johannes Andreas Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt realized their most prestigious work, the van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, which has aroused much enthusiasm and certainly has its place among the architectural achievements of our century. The long parallelepiped with alternate courses of cement and glass, interrupted in modular manner by tense vertical blocks counterposed dialectically by the curving office block, is a tribute to the potentialities of modern labor. Its architecture is the product of a clearly thought-out program linking construction to the needs of production: inside, the rooms, with elegant mushroom pillars seen through the windows, were laid out strictly on the basis of the organization of the work. It was adaptable to eventual extensions, in every sense an open structure, and its quality stems from the process of functional simplification; the rational organization of the work done in it is further emphasized by the excellent natural lighting in an interior for the best possible working conditions. This realistic approach to production is based on an enlightened relationship between man and machine. [Pg. 225]

Click the images in the gallery below to see them enlarged.
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Frederick Kiesler, City of space (1925)

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Frederick (then Friedrich) Kiesler’s City of Space [Raumstadt] debuted at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, 1925. Along with Melnikov’s legendary Soviet pavilion, it was one of only two new explorations of spatial form that Theo van Doesburg actually appreciated from the whole exhibition. (Doesburg didn’t even care for Le Corbuser’s Swiss pavilion). Soon thereafter, noticing a clear affinity between his own architectural ambitions and Kiesler’s — both were inspired by Mondrian, after all — Doesburg got the Austrian designer to publish his Manifesto in the 10/11 issue of De Stijl, Vol. 6.

The text, fully translated, is reproduced below.

Friedrich Kiesler with a crowd of visitors to his Raumstadt display, 1925

Friedrich Kiesler with a crowd of visitors to his Raumstadt display, 1925

Manifesto

Frederick Kiesler
De Stijl (1925)

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Living buildings — city of space [Raumstadt] — functional architecture.

The new form of the city arises from necessity:

  • the country-city, because the separation of country and town has been abolished
  • the time-city, because time is the dimension of its spatial organization
  • the space-city, because it hovers freely in space, is decentralized into parts according to the terrain
  • the automatic city, because the daily routine of life is mechanized.

What more are our houses than stone coffins towering up from the ground into the sky? One storey high, two storeys — three hundred storeys high. Masonry rectangles and decagons? Entrenched coffins of stone, or wood, or clay, or concrete — with air-holes. Continue reading