Why Are Architects So Obsessed With Piet Mondrian?

In the 1920s, Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian began painting his iconic black grids populated with shifting planes of primary colors. By moving beyond references to the world around him, his simplified language of lines and rectangles known as Neo Plasticism explored the dynamics of movement through color and form alone. Though his red, yellow and blue color-blocked canvases were important elements of the De Stijl movement in the early 1900s, almost a century later Mondrian’s abstractions still inspire architects across the globe.

But, what is it about these spatial explorations that have captivated artists and designers for so long?

Arguably the first instance of the architectural adoption of Mondrian’s explorations came in the form of a modest two-story home—architect Gerrit Rietveld’s first building—for the recently widowed Truus Schröder and her three children in Utrecht, Netherlands. Constructed between 1923 and 1924 the Schröder House saw the painter’s vivid planes and grids transformed into metal strips, expanses of wood, and lengths of tubular steel painted red, blue and yellow that frame the shifting planes of the roof, windows, and walls. The home’s inner walls were freed of their structural responsibility allowing the internal space to function as a flexible composition of floating planes.

(Image: IK world’s trip)

In 1926, painter and architect Theo van Doesburg—a contemporary of both Mondrian and Rietveld—was commissioned to design the Café L’Aubette. He conceived the interior renovations as an inhabitable De Stijl Painting—grids tilted at 45 degrees envelop the walls and ceiling of the “Ciné-Dancing” hall with vibrant hues of red, yellow, blue, and green occupying the irregular spaces between. Only two years later, Mies van der Rohe would seemingly transform Mondrian’s 1917 Composition in Colour A into the broad expanses of glass, marble, travertine, and steel defining the Barcelona Pavilion.

(Image: Jean Pierre Dalbera)

Architectural interest in Mondrian’s work would wane in the years leading up to the second World War until post-war consumerism drove the development of George Nelson’s primary color-blocked StorageWall of 1945—bringing the artist’s work to the scale of home storage—while the vibrant aluminium panels in Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Sonia Delaunay’s Bookcase linked Neo Plasticism with domestic display.

(Image: Lauren Manning)

With the inauguration of Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House Program, design duo Charles and Ray Eames modified the artist’s black grids into prefabricated steel frames for the bold cladding wrapping the two volumes of their 1949 Case Study House #8. In designing a prototypical, prefabricated structure in response to the housing boom, Mondrian’s abstracted planes and grids naturally complimented industrial production and war-born techniques to bring domestic architecture to the masses. Similar bold primary colors accented the balconies of Le Corbusier’s brutalist utopia Unite d’Habitiation in 1952 and would eventually appear on the Pavilion Le Corbusier as color-blocked enamel paneling. Even fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent adapted Mondrian’s graphic grid into a sack dress in 1965.

(Image: City of Hague)

Mondrian’s lasting influence on architecture is still present today—from the Mondrian Hotel in LA and the Mondrian Residences in Muntinlupa, Philippines to the cladding of Richard Meier’s 1955 City Hall of the Hague Netherlands, which was repainted in early 2017 to celebrate De Stijl‘s centennial.

Whether employed alongside new manufacturing techniques or structural capacities, the language of Mondrian’s abstraction has fascinated architects in their exploration of new spatial types. The artist’s vision for the plasticity of the built world allowed him to interrogate the reductive idea of architecture as mass, instead considering it as a dynamic framework connected to the essential shapes and rhythms of human life.

(Source: Archdaily)