Exhibition Cupola Metz & Co

Leidsestraat 34-36
G. Rietveld
Metz & Co

The glazed cupola of Rietveld

The department store Metz & Co is housed in a neoclassical building on the corner of Keizersgracht and Leidsestraat. Metz & Co, which was founded as a fabrics shop on St. Antoniesbreestraat in the eighteenth century, developed in the twentieth century into a trendsetting department store specialized in furniture and modern design. The store provided a platform for ground-breaking furniture designs by foreign architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto. Moreover, Metz had its own workshop where furniture designers produced contemporary designs. One of these designers was Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964), whose modernist chairs were on sale in Metz & Co from 1930 onwards.

Rietveld, who was originally a furniture maker, was not just a furniture designer. He was also a graphic designer and architect. He was asked to design the lettering for the firm’s name that was to be placed on the roof of the department store. During this design process, in 1933, it was decided to extend the steel support structure for the lettering into a glazed space that was to function as a furniture showroom. This resulted in what came to be known as ‘De Koepel’ (the cupola). With its continuous glazed wall set in a light steel frame, this structure gave expression to the creed of ‘light, air and space’ of the Nieuwe Bouwen (Dutch modernist) movement, of which Rietveld was an advocate.

In 1933 the exhibition ‘Op het dak’ (on the roof) was organized to mark the store’s expansion. The exhibition comprised a sleeping, eating and sitting area with Rietveld’s most recent furniture designs. The following is taken from Metz & Co’s autumn catalogue: ‘In order to display the steel furniture in an open and suitable setting, Rietveld has used the available area on the roof to create an imposing space, built to his design and under his direction, above Amsterdam.’ This space still exists but was radically renovated in 1986 by the architect Cees Dam. It now forms part of the café-restaurant on the floor below. We don’t know whether Rietveld’s cupola is still as imposing as it was on completion because it is closed to the public. However, there is still an imposing view of Amsterdam from the café-restaurant.

In 1938, around the corner at number 449 Keizersgracht, the furniture department was extended. Rietveld designed the new shop and the lettering ‘Metz & Co’. The café-restaurant Walem is currently housed in this building. (ARCAM/VKB)