The New Rijksmuseum 2004, Amsterdam
. The folding principle
. Grid & cornice
. Platforms, display plinths & showcases
. Wall panelling & information columns
. Answers to questions 4,5 & 6 / ARBM
The New Rijksmuseum Amsterdam February 23 2004, Acknowledgement.
After qualifying as a finalist in the Prix de Rome 1995 competition, I designed my first piece of furniture: a coffee table, created to accompany the Lota sofa (1924) by Eileen Gray. It is designed as a simple rectangular box in which to stow daily necessities. In addition, it functions as a plinth for vases, candles, books and the like. By pulling on either end, both sides open to reveal the contents which are otherwise hidden from view.
This synchronously extendable coffee table represents my philosophy and attitude toward architecture, both in specifics and in general, until this very day. Without exception, I try to strive to achieve the naturalism expressed in the coffee table in all of my work.
In a way, the same can be said of the Cruz y Ortiz design for the New Rijksmuseum. To me, their approach is not aimed at embellishing or adorning the structure. Rather, it is about reactivating an already existing layer of the building as we know it. By focusing on the architectural elements already in place, the Cruz y Ortiz unveil a new concept, showing us something new, something that was there but that we had not seen before, almost as if they had uncovered an archaeological find.
This turning ‘inside-out’ of the building, in a way, creates a new kind of public space in the museum as well in the city of Amsterdam which houses it, reconnecting and revitalising the relationship between the museum and the city as a whole through its fresh, invigorating approach. I think that’s a wonderful thing. In the words of P.J.H. Cuypers himself, “…its outside form should represent its inside function”. Cuypers eclectic design of the Rijksmuseum must be changed from within with great care and precision. In my view, the approach to the design of the exhibition spaces should be an extension of the approach taken by Cruz y Ortiz, with no visible difference whatsoever between the two.
Their carved out-like basement recharges the New Rijksmuseum on all levels. Its simplicity is its power. It has proven to have an inner strength with which to reorganise the museum as a whole and to silently command respect for its very being. Its calm speaks without words and guides without force. It should be kept in mind that the exhibition space must, on the one hand, be subservient to the works of art it houses, yet, at the same time, be equivalent to the monumental scale and almost sacral spatial quality of the Rijksmuseum as a whole, on the other. It is our challenge to find the right balance between the two, to strike precisely the right note. It is our task to create a meaningful order, an atmosphere and a sequence of space which allows itself to be easily adapted, almost moulded, to meet any exhibition demand, all without the loss of strength or clarity. The key word is flexibility.
I believe in a pure, calm surrounding for the works of art to be displayed. My proposal is based on a quiet, almost whispering structure within the existing ‘dome'; a superimposed layer, added in time and enriched by meaning and context, introducing an ongoing dialogue between its history and the present. The concept I propose can be seen as a guideline for generating a virtually unlimited number of possibilities in various situations within the existing structure. The objective is to guarantee ‘a wider variation in and enrichment of the visual experience’.
Taking into account the interior of the building, the dominant repetition of vaults and overall decoration, I suggest focusing mainly on the lower level of the space, on the plane on which visitors move, observe and rest, to establish a harmonious, connecting balance between the upper and lower areas of the space. I therefore use the new floor element as a unifying continuum, a horizontal base for the works of art to be presented and interconnected. All other exhibition components such as lighting, platforms, display plinths, showcases, wall panelling, information columns, digital touch screens and the like are part of this singular ‘method of approach’, an integral part of the overall movement and atmosphere.
The folding principle
In contrast to the 17th century rooms, as well as in relation to the direct access from the spacious inner courts, the space allotted to the Middle Ages can be marked as a rather introvert, undefined space.
The works of art on display here are divided over multiple smaller groups and the objects themselves are, in general, relatively small in scale and size. In order to create a clear yet, at the same time, intriguing route throughout the collection of the Middle Ages as well as the 20th century art, a new organising structure is ‘folded’, as it were, into the almost endlessly repetitive grid of vaults.
From the start, there was a strong feeling for and appreciation of the innate beauty contained in this massive brick structure; for darkness and light, for that one, unique storyline embedded in each object. In order to create an almost mystical atmosphere, devoid of predetermined space and time, undisturbed by rudely glaring artificial light, the works of art are organised and displayed in vertical and horizontal carved-out niches which are lit independently, by means of recessed fixtures, along the existing brick structure of vaults and walls, much as ancient engravings.
Far removed from any rigid formal model, the exhibition layout reveals itself through exploration, a continuous internal space in which one work of art will smoothly and seamlessly lead you to the next. Each place contains its own treasures, there to be discovered, interlinked like pearls on a necklace. The room’s main entrances are integrated into the continuous ‘folded’ movement of the meandering interior space and serve as identifying marks and (digital) information columns along the way.
The 17th century rooms have already been designed with a distinct vision of routing as well as the use of natural and artificial lighting. However, as you have noted, the room is characterised by a complete lack of spatial identity, discouraging any attempt at dialogue between the visitor and the works of art beforehand. As pointed out in the text, it is essential, for example, to divide the themes ‘The Sea’ and ‘Burghers in Power’ in this potentially overwhelmingly large space. The ‘folding’ principle is used as an organisational concept applied to the entire collection, perceived as a continuous spatial movement while at the same time creating a natural order and transition from one theme to the next.
The floor plays a decisive role in the way the art objects will be interconnected along the timeline. In the design proposal, this horizontal element is seen as an important architectural component. Not only as a visual surface and guiding element, but also as an organising aspect in the display of works of art. The new floor covering (also used to integrate the new technical equipment) – will therefore act as a key organising principle for the museum as a whole. The layout of the exhibition spaces must be carefully considered and designed, changing as one passes through the chronological circuit. Not only will there be variation by period, sort, scale, number, material, colour and location of the art objects themselves, but also in their distance and relationship to one another.
Grid & Cornice
I propose a grid of floor tiles. Aside from its organisational quality and architectural characteristics, a grid is directionless by definition and can therefore be seen as a neutral lineation. A ‘3-D cornice‘ made of stone (solotum kalkstein), is used as a main unifying framework for the overall display components. Its depth creates a natural boundary between the visitor and the works of art. I suggest using floor tiles composed of thin wooden strips for the bel-etage and the first floor. I propose using a light coloured wood and stone (solotum kalkstein) in order to reflect as much light, natural and artificial, as possible. I recommend a hard-wearing type of wood such as oak, finished with a natural wax coating for easy and low-cost maintenance, preserves the natural richness of the saturated wooden floor tiles. The (prefabricated) wooden floor tiles can be detailed in such a way that they are demountable and replaceable, if and when necessary.
Platforms, display plinths & showcases
Platforms, display plinths and showcases are the same, designed as simple rectangular solids. They are set alone or in ensembles, organised by material, period, origin, or combined to support a storyline. Groups of relatively small display plinths and showcases can be used in order to create different levels of display within the ensembles themselves. Platforms and display plinths are made of 4mm thick stone (solotum kalkstein) veneered MDF boxes. Showcases are constructed of (layered) 13mm thick glass sheets. Both, glass and stone, are manufactured with mitre joints and glued using an ultra violet adhesive technology. A ‘pull & slide’ system, similar to the one I used for the extendable coffee table, for example, enables the showcases to be easily opened. A telescopic (precision) sliding rail – a system you are already familiar with, I understand – enables the display plinth to slide out completely so that each tableau can be arranged separately and the glass can be easily cleaned inside as well as out. Each showcase can be locked separately. Each showcase is equipped with its own specially designed ‘floating top’ for the display of the artworks. Each piece or group of objects can be placed on individual pedestals and lit by optic fibre fixtures from below, as well as by light from outside the showcase. Text labels are carefully inlaid on one side of the individual pedestals and therefore easily readable. These pedestals are equipped with special means of support for certain objects, each and every one displayed in its own unique way.
Wall panelling & information columns
Wall panelling, based on the scale of the rooms, is used as a flexible second skin inside the existing interior of smoothly plastered light coloured walls (Donald Kaufman Color Collection) & unfinished brick walls and vaults in order to create an appropriate background for any ensemble or setting imaginable. At the same time, the wall panelling serves as an acoustic soundboard (sound absorbing) in the 17th century rooms and introduces a cavity between the existing inner walls and the new, to be used for artificial lighting as well as other technical equipment. Depending on the size of the works of art to be displayed and the location, the width of every panel is made to measure. Vertically organised and integrated information columns (some digital) are used as an overall information system for the ensemble and object texts. Additionally, these information columns will connect and disconnect the works of art in a subtle, unobtrusive manner. The wall panelling is constructed of light weight (aluminium) metal frames and a perforated metal front sheeting, provided with an absorbent material and covered by a dark charcoal coloured fabric finishing. Paintings and similar objects can easily be hung on the perforated metal sheets behind the silk-like fabric finishing by custommade fittings.
Light, in all its manifestations, cannot be considered as a isolated entity. Light gives mass, depth and form. It enables us to define objects and space. It affects our perception, mood and behaviour. Light plays a meticulous and fascinating, almost intriguing role within the overall design – especially in museum design – and cannot easily be defined or described in precise terms as is common with solid tangible materials and details. Light has a powerful effect on the texture and colour of all materials used and is, in turn, reflected to a greater or lesser degree in many ways depending on the surface. With regard to lighting, I don’t believe in the precision of calculations, in terms of sufficient or insufficient, good or bad. Light must be an innate and natural part of the overall design, one that can be worked with and manipulated to achieve the desired mood and effect.
. windows & skylights
General artificial light
. skylights & floor lighting
. spotlights, recessed fixtures
. by reflection, recessed fixtures
. optic fibre in showcases & niches, recessed fixtures
. information columns, text labels & signposting
Answer to questions 4, 5 & 6/ARBM Het Nieuwe Rijksmuseum Amsterdam February 23, 2004.
In answer to your questions, I myself will be personally responsible for the project and can guarantee you my undivided attention throughout the entire life-cycle of the project. When setting up my architectural firm, I took a conscious decision to create a ‘lean and mean’ organisation, one which can be characterised as flexible and projectoriented rather than following any strict formal organisational guidelines. This structure has proven to be very successful throughout the years, enabling my firm to adapt itself to the client rather than the other way round. In the event my firm is selected for the project and we agree that the project would benefit from combining offices, I see no reason not to do so. The goal is to achieve the highest quality possible and I am thoroughly committed to making any organisational adjustments necessary to achieve this goal. Without exception, I personally will do all of the design work. I compare the process of designing to method acting. The architect almost has to become wood or stone in a way, in order to be able to really understand the essence of the material and how to transform it into the design. This is a highly personal approach and one that cannot be safely entrusted to another architect or designer. Aside from that, my continuous focus and effort in trying to reach the highest quality of workmanship possible, which I am sure you noticed in my work, demands great skill and discipline from all those involved. I consult on a regular basis with the international team of people responsible for the work to be carried out on all of my projects in Holland as well as abroad. I take a tremendous interest in their craftsmanship, their expertise, in the ability to combine our talents and know-how and follow their work closely. Over the years I have worked on a number of relatively smaller scale projects, mainly for private clients. This audience typically demands the intense and exclusive, undivided personal attention of the architect himself. Due in large part to the scale of the New Rijksmuseum project, most of the office producing capacity will be hired from outside. In the past, this approach has proven to be highly successful and will help me to keep my objectivity about the designs as well as the people involved, in general.
Design: Jen Alkema architect
Animation & Stills: INDG
Text editing: Judith Smith
© All rights reserved April 26, 2004