Architecture and Design 1923–30

Theo van Doesburg and Cornelis van Eesteren Perspective with final colour design, Shopping arcade with bar-restaurant, Laan van Meerdervoort, The Hague 1924

Theo van Doesburg and Cornelis van Eesteren
Perspective with final colour design, Shopping arcade with bar-restaurant, Laan van Meerdervoort, The Hague 1924

Netherlands Architecture Institute

The young Dutch architect Cornelis van Eesteren met van Doesburg in Weimar in 1922. The following year they collaborated on a series of architectural models based on planes floating in space with the non-colours white, grey and black, together with the three primaries of red, yellow, and blue. They conceived of the house not as a cube closed in on itself but an open space that encompasses inside and out, while painting was not limited to a decorative role but gave dynamic impetus to the space. Their plans for a Private House and an Artist’s House were exhibited at the Effort Moderne gallery in Paris in October 1923. While the plans were never realised, other De Stijl architects introduced related ideas in buildings such as Rietveld’s Schröder House in Utrecht in 1924 and the Café Unie in Rotterdam, designed by Oud in 1925. The De Stijl influence also became apparent in the work of French artists Felix Del Marle and Jean Gorin, and the Paris-based Irish designer Eileen Gray.

In 1926, van Doesburg was invited to join Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp in the redevelopment of the Aubette building in Strasbourg as a café, restaurant, ballroom and cinema complex. Invited to design the large party room and cinema-dance hall, van Doesburg took charge of every element, down to the tables and ashtrays. Underlying his designs was a new aesthetic he termed Elementarism that privileged obliquely positioned rectangles and squares, and tonal ‘variances’ (and occasionally dissonances) in hue. 

‘The point is to situate man within painting, rather than in front of it’, van Doesburg argued. ‘Man does not live in the construction but in the atmosphere generated by the surfaces.’

In contrast to his previous architectural work, the house that van Doesburg built for his wife Nelly and himself in Meudon (1929–30) was a far more rational and mathematical design. Its use of colour was also more restrained, though this may have been due to budgetary restrictions and the project’s incomplete status at the time of van Doesburg’s death.

Theo van Doesburg Counter-Construction, Axonometric, Maison Particulière 1923

Theo van Doesburg
Counter-Construction, Axonometric, Maison Particulière 1923

© 2010 Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

Theo van Doesburg Colour design for ceiling and three walls, Small Ballroom, Conversion of L’Aubette Interior, Strasbourg 1926/7

Theo van Doesburg
Colour design for ceiling and three walls, Small Ballroom, Conversion of L’Aubette Interior, Strasbourg 1926/7

Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich