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The Passion of Rietveld

Refusing to let space or money dictate the board's decision, students and teachers at the Rietveld Academy have won a stay of four months on the controversial plan to move away from their custom-built facility.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 21-05-2009

This Monday hundreds of Gerrit Rietveld Academy students and teachers gathered to protest the board’s decision to relocate.  The day also marked the 42nd birthday of the Gerrit Rietveld designed building. 

With a megaphone and “Hulde Gerrit” (all hail Gerrit) emblazoned across his chest, teacher Erik Mattijssen stood up and thanked the board for showing the Rietveld community that they are a very international and tight-knit family.

“Forty-two years ago the first students entered this building and it still functions in the best way possible,” he said.  “It is a dream to be in.  Yes we have hated it.  It can be too cold and it can be too hot, but what we have loved is the space, the light, and the composition.”

The first staff and students heard about the plan to move the academy was in an article published in de Volkskrant newspaper last month.  They had not been consulted or asked to participate in any decision making.

“I’d say that it did not even occur to them that we could have a different opinion,” says Linda van Deursen, dressed in a pillar of head-to-toe Rietveld red.  Van Deursen is head of the graphic design department and the person  responsible for calling on the academy’s global diaspora, starting the petition and garnering enough community support to win a stay of four months on the plan.

“Management has a responsibility to ensure that this building stays ours,” she continued as hundreds of teachers and students also dressed in classic Rietveld colours formed a human snake, wrapping themselves around their much-loved building.   “It was built specifically for us by Rietveld himself and despite its problems, is about ideas, education and art.  This is where we belong.”

Managing Director, Annelies van Eenennaam together with the Chairmen of the Board of Directors, Tijmen van Grootheest apparently picked out the GAK building, a former office block located between a highway and a residential area in the troubled Bos en Lommer area as the new facility. The first anybody knew about this was after reading the de Volkskrant article on the 30th April.  It is also when the academy community learnt that the next plan for the Gerrit Rietveld building was as an extension of the nearby British School, a private institution which for the year 2008 – 2009 charged 12, 984 euros per child.

In his speech during the protest, Mattijssen was quick to dismiss the suggestion that the school’s desire to stay in its original facility is a conservative one.  “Why would you quit the man you love,” he asked to applause.  “We want to stay not because we are being conservative, but because it is the best possible solution.”

She has four months to change minds and Van Deursen remains determined to see this battle through.  “Yes we absolutely want to stay here,” she says.  “We want to devise a new solution to the issue of space and will not accept the board’s position. I think it is clear that there is a lot of resistance and disbelief that the board would dare to do this, and it is going take a lot to regain our trust.”

Monday’s crowd was unanimous in its opinion that art and design education requires a particular sort of vision – one that best grows in an environment that stands for creativity and freedom.

“Which is exactly what we have here,” says Rob Schröder a designer and teacher at the Sandberg Institute, the post-graduate arm of the Rietveld Academy.  “It’s an enviable set up.   We need examples like this in design education, ones that enable students to constantly relate to the sorts of modernist ideas, which are a permanent and important link to Dutch design history.

“And besides, a huge decision like this requires some sort of ideological basis,” Schröder continues.  “It has to be about where education is going.  You can’t just pick up and move an academy like this. It would be a disaster.

“And on top of all of that, the answer to this space issue is easy to solve.  Use the Sandberg Institute building for computers and relocate the Sandberg Institute to a building in the inner city.  There. Problem solved.”

Images: Saskia Janssen (The Rietveld Preservation Society)

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