The Building

The interior features fold-down tables and other handy train gadgets

Utrecht is dotted with special buildings, which you bike past regularly but know very little about. Take the house owned by railway architect Sybold van Ravesteyn on Prins Hendriklaan, for example: a confusing Baroque edifice, built during a period of functionalism.

text: Martine Bakker
photography: HUA

For a long time, national railway (NS) architects set the tone for railway buildings. G.W. van Heukelom, for example, gave them a Berlage feel, while architects such as Herman Schelling, Cees Douma and Koen van der Gaast favoured a more modern touch. The most flamboyant railway architect employed by the NS was undoubtedly Sybold van Ravesteyn. He was a fan of elaborate floor plans featuring Baroque, curls and plaster ornaments. However, he was also very efficient in his use of space, an essential skill when designing stations, goods sheds and signal boxes. The elegant Utrecht Central Station dating from 1937-39, which was demolished to make way for the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall, was a perfect example of his work.

Van Ravesteyn’s own house at Prins Hendriklaan 112 dates from 1932, and is a fine example, which still exists today. Although much smaller than a station, it is just as unique, with an interior featuring fold-down tables and other handy train gadgets. It is cleverly angled on a triangular plot of land, the ceilings are covered with arched strips or skylights, and a round window has been fitted into a square window frame. Seen from the street, the most striking elements are the huge round window on the first floor, and the curved east facade.

Van Ravesteyn started using curves and round shapes in the 1920s, when people had just got used to the angular appearance of modernism. The Rietveld-Schröder house a little further along Prins Hendriklaan, for example, dates from 1924. And yet the cultural journal Elseviers Geïllustreerd Maandschrift was in awe. ‘Van Ravesteyn’s art appears fragile and serene alongside the other functional designs’, was the conclusion in edition 42 from 1932. ‘Intensely fragile, while also fresh and almost over-polished. Luxurious without a trace of opulence. Exceedingly imaginative in a refined, aesthetic way, while also being as fresh as a spring bouquet and as perverse as an orchid.’

Sybold van Ravesteyn lived in his house on Prins Hendriklaan until his death in 1983. It is now a museum where you can spend a night on weekdays. The Rietveld-Schröder house is also a museum. Being contemporaries and both from Utrecht, Elseviers compared the two architects. Rietveld was dubbed a ‘pioneer’, while Van Ravesteyn ‘strikes the finishing touch’. If you’ve got nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon, why not try comparing a pioneering functional design with a perverse orchid?


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