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Publication date 10 November 2022

Reeuwijk Celebrates Completion of Restoration Rietveld Homes!

  • Before restoration © Jannes Linders.
  • After restoration © Jannes Linders.
  • After restoration © WDJA.
  • Before restoration © Jannes Linders.
  • After restoration © Jannes Linders.
  • After restoration © WDJA.

This summer the Reeuwijk Housing Association and Wessel de Jonge Architecten celebrated the completion of the major maintenance work on the 52 alternating homes designed by Gerrit Rietveld. A special feature is the block of 8 Rietveld houses, where the facade has been 'reduced' in the style of Rietveld. Two model homes were opened for the celebration. The architect and Rietveld's heirs were in one house to talk about the design and cultural heritage. In the other house, a video was shown showing the progress of the project.

The well-known alternating homes in Reeuwijk have been returned to their original state as much as possible. As a contractor, Smits Vastgoedzorg has taken charge of this major project. The focus was on the energetic measures, the preservation of cultural heritage and quality of life. ‘Together we have ensured the best result with an eye for everyone's interests. Because we believe that real estate that meets the needs of tomorrow contributes to a better living environment,’ says Hans van der Krogt, director of Smits Vastgoedzorg.

Unique homes
The houses have unique elements, such as a lot of daylight entering through large windows, the front garden of one house adjoins the back garden of the other house. ‘With label B and a much-improved appearance, the 52 rental homes can continue for another 25 years.’ says Esther, director of the Reeuwijk Housing Association. The preliminary design research for this was carried out in collaboration with Van der Goes Architecten.

The design of Gerrit Rietveld
From the 1920s, Rietveld slowly developed a preference for public housing. ‘In order to make a home cheaper, without a reduction in quality, it must be smaller and simpler,’ said Rietveld at the time. This quest resulted in 1928 in the ‘het Kernhuis’ (Core House), whereby the 'traffic space' was reduced to a minimum, so that the living space could be enlarged. Traffic space refers to a corridor, a portal or, for example, the landing. A derivative of this ‘Core House’ principle has been applied to the houses in Reeuwijk, here too the core of the house has been kept as compact as possible to make the living and bedroom areas as large as possible.

The project
The 52 alternating homes in Reeuwijk have been given a 25-year maintenance overhaul. The outer shell of the houses was tackled, and the houses were energetically improved to at least label B. The transition from the private gardens to the public area was also improved by installing green fencing full of climbing plants, gates, and extra storage rooms.
All 52 homes were designed by the well-known architect Gerrit Rietveld. It has been decided to restore the appearance of the outer facade for one block of 8 houses in accordance with the original Rietveld design. The first sketches of these unique homes were made in 1957. In January 1959 the first homes were put into use.

From the WDJA website:

In 1957, Gerrit Rietveld was commissioned to design 52 social housing units in Reeuwijk. The scheme was part of an expansion project for this small town that was planned by the well-known modernist architect Sam van Embden, which explains Rietveld’s involvement. The narrow plots and parcellation of the six blocks follow the old polder structure. The project was completed in 1959 and is an outstanding example of innovative post-war housing construction. It is the only social housing project Rietveld managed to have built according to the principles of the 'core house', a concept for efficient social housing units that he developed since 1928.

The houses alternately face the street with their front and rear façades. The flat front facades alternate with the receding rear facades, which produces a sculptural image. The continuous tight-white roof edge lies flush with the façade, but forms a large roof overhang at the receding façade sections. At the ends of the blocks, this results in alternating closed and open corners.
The windows were united over two floors by making the intermediate parapet in glass, with a coloured panel behind it. Rietveld may have been inspired by the ‘shadow box’ parapets of the Lever House (Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois, 1952) that he may have seen during his work for the UN Secretariat Building in New York. With the characteristic continuous eaves, straight streets and uniform outdoor space, the six blocks form a coherent ensemble.

Due to poor execution, the houses showed defects from the start. A thorough renovation followed in 1980 in which the nimble post-war architecture was concealed by a 1970s sauce. The configurations of the new window frames did not correspond with the original layouts, and the spandrels were clad with timber siding. Slightly sloping roofs were added to cover the flat roofs, with the slender steel eaves disappearing behind wooden paneling. The palette of light pastel colours was replaced by uniform dark brown. Over time, a variety of sheds and yard fences were installed in the gardens to increase privacy. This greatly cluttered the streetscape. Nevertheless, most residents appreciated the sophisticated layouts and high quality of living.

Over 40 years later, the technical condition of the houses had again deteriorated badly. The necessary upgrading for a more efficient energy-performance seemed unfeasible and replacement by new construction the only way out. In response to stubborn objections from the residents to the planned demolition, a way out was eventually found with combined efforts to preserve the homes. The ambition was to increase the energy performance from energy label E/F to B, improve living comfort and regain the original character of the neighbourhood.

During renovation, the pitched roofs were removed. The flat roofs were heavily insulated while the original steel eaves were again exposed and repaired. The replaced window frames were still in good condition; they were therefore retained in most of the houses and painted in the original white colour. At the paneled parapets, reference was made to the original grey-green and grey-blue colour. The renovation could be carried out while the dwellings remained in lived in.

A further restorative approach was taken for the south-easternmost block of eight units. Here, new window frames were installed incorporating the original configuration and several original types of patterned glass, including the originally translucent parapet. The restored homes fall into the mid-priced category while the renovated homes are being offered again in the social sector.

The quality of the outdoor space has also been addressed. At the head of the original masonry storerooms - mostly used as utility rooms - uniform wooden outdoor storerooms have been installed. At the restored houses, their details have been adapted to the Rietveld houses. Individual fences and railings have been replaced by green yard fences that will overgrow with ivy. This has created a quieter and more collective streetscape. In turn, the municipality will later adapt and green the public space to make it more climate adaptive.

The project was completed in the early summer of 2022. The preserved houses will last at least another 30 years and an important post-war heritage has been preserved for Reeuwijk.

Publication date 10 November 2022