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Stedelijk Building News nr. 1

The Stedelijk Museum in the late nineteenth century

The Sandberg Wing in the 1950s


Architectural history This special series of newsletters is designed to keep you informed of progress on the renovation of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In 2010 you will be able to see the results of the complete refurbishment of the Stedelijk’s original building with your own eyes and experience for yourself the spectacular architecture of the new wing. This first issue of the newsletter tells the story of the Stedelijk’s architectural past and offers a taste of things to come at the new Stedelijk.


The Stedelijk Museum was established in the late nineteenth century on the initiative of a number of wealthy citizens who were determined to create a venue for the display of the contemporary art of their day. It was built as a place for modern art and almost immediately came to symbolise the economic and industrial prosperity of Amsterdam. Since art was then the responsibility of local authorities rather than national government, it was the city architect, Adriaan Willem Weissman, who produced the design for the new museum. He deliberately made the exterior of the building functional and kept the interior fairly plain, so that it would not compete with the works of art on display. The new museum opened in 1895. Successive directors have all made minor alterations to the Weissman building but the greatest changes were introduced during the directorship of Willem Sandberg (19451963). Under his aegis, all the internal decoration was painted over or stripped away, turning the museum into a ‘white cube’ with little or nothing to distract attention from the exhibits. Following the example of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Sandberg also extended the museum, adding a new wing containing extra exhibition space and facilities such as a library, a reading room, a depot, an auditorium and a café. This new Sandberg Wing was opened in 1954. Its transparency, with huge windows enabling passersby to see straight in, made the building extremely avant-garde at a time when most museums still firmly repelled the gaze of the outside world. Since 1895, when the Stedelijk opened, standards of collection management and conservation had risen and display methods had changed. There was a need for more exhibition space and the problem was exacerbated when director Edy de Wilde (1963-1985) turned a section of the Weissman building into offices. Wim Beeren

took over from him in 1985 and the earliest plans for a new building date from his directorship. As he was leaving the post in 1992, Beeren launched an architectural competition, which attracted four candidates: Dutch architects Carl Weeber, Rem Koolhaas and Wim Quist, and American architect Robert Venturi. In 1993 Beeren chose Venturi’s entry and Rudi Fuchs, who had meanwhile succeeded him as director, agreed. However, Venturi’s plan proved to be too expensive and a steering group of the City Executive (with Fuchs as a member) subsequently picked Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira to design the new Stedelijk. The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (BNA) opposed the choice on the grounds that it was against EU regulations, which laid down that commissions worth over 425,000 guilders (as it was then) must be open to competitive tender from a number of architects. The BNA argued that the City could not simply award the contract without such a procedure. The original budget for the renovation and new extension had been 30 million guilders. Even though the municipality had meanwhile halved the budget and modified the specifications accordingly, a competitive procedure still had to be launched. Siza was ultimately confirmed as the best choice. Between 1994 and 2003, Siza worked on two designs for the Stedelijk Museum, both of which were eventually rejected because they were ‘too enclosed’, not financially viable and not up to specification for the intended use. The rapid succession of aldermen for culture during the period did nothing to facilitate the decision-making process.

Design by Robert Venturi

Design by Alvaro Siza

Design by Benthem/Crouwel

In 2003, an advisory committee was set up under the chairmanship of the then director of the Concertgebouw, Martijn Sanders to draft a new schedule of requirements and launch a new competition. The Sanders Committee felt that the museum should ‘occupy 8

a central place in society’ and ‘engage in a closer relationship with the local community’. Siza had designed a pavilion-like wing, built of light-coloured stone and less open in character. Meanwhile, on 31 December 2003, the museum closed its doors to await restoration and building work. One reason for closing at this point was the expiry of the building’s public occupancy permit. As a temporary measure, the ‘Stedelijk Museum CS’ was opened in the Post CS building (the former TPG building) beside Central Station. The new schedule of requirements for the Museumplein was almost ready and an open competition was launched via a public tendering procedure. At the same time, a special foundation was set up to recruit sponsors, since the funds made available by the City of Amsterdam needed to be topped up by private-sector finance. In the end, the foundation raised over € 26 million, an all-time record for the Netherlands. The City of Amsterdam has found a total of € 81 million for the new Stedelijk and new depot. Dozens of entries were received and five Dutch design bureaux were ultimately selected to submit detailed designs. The five companies concerned were Herman Hertzberger, Claus en Kaan Architecten, Henket & Partners, Diederen Dirrix van Wijlick Architecten and Benthem Crouwel Architekten. The jury examined their proposals on an anonymous basis (that is, without knowing which company had submitted which design) and voted unanimously for the last: a bureau which specialises in the conversion and extension of historic buildings. Benthem Crouwel’s design left the existing Weissman building intact (apart from an in-depth restoration), while the Sandberg Wing and various annexes, like the ‘marmottenhuis’ (‘marmot mound’, so-called because of its maze of staircases and complex floor structure), were to be demolished

to make room for a new wing facing onto the Museumplein. The major change was the creation of a main, covered entrance from the Museumplein, so that visitors would no longer have to queue up in the cold and rain in Paulus Potterstraat. In accordance with Dutch custom, this part of the new design (further details of which can be found elsewhere in this issue) has already acquired a nickname: it is known as ‘the bathtub’ because of the huge white awning that projects over the transparent new entrance hall, providing a dry, comfortable space in which visitors can wait to buy their tickets. 125 years after the construction of the original museum building and following some 18 years of planning, it will certainly be a red letter day when the refurbished and expanded Stedelijk re-opens its doors in 2010 and the collection can once again be seen in all its breadth and glory.

The Stedelijk Museum CS in the Post CS Building

Three in one: a new depot

As well as a need to expand the exhibition areas and create extra workspace for staff, there had long been a desire for a new depot. The Stedelijk’s collection was split between three depots: two in the city and one outside it. Now there is to be a single depot to accommodate all 90,000 objects in the collection, ranging from video tapes and photographs to paintings, design items, sculptures and installations. The new depot will provide around 9,000 m2 of storage and associated workspace. It will offer a range of different internal climates, ensuring the right atmospheric conditions for the preservation of all the various materials in the collection. For example, there will be a metals section, with reduced humidity to guard against rust. Colour photos will be kept in a kind of cold store, because they need to be kept at 3º Celsius, while blackand-white photos can be stored at 16º Celsius. Each of the disciplines 9

The new depot

Alderman Carolien Gehrels with the Stedelijk’s Director, Gijs van Tuyl, at the hand-over of the new depot on 30 June 2009

The depot in Paulus Potterstraat

The new depot

Restoration studio under renovation

will have its own specific zone with a climate exactly tailored to its needs. Clearly, any new art storage depot must meet a number of specific requirements: for instance, ceilings must be high enough to accommodate the largest objects to be stored there, as must passageways and lifts. If this proves impossible, creative solutions must be found. Security, lighting and finishes are other important considerations. What lighting is appropriate for a space filled from floor to ceiling with pull-out painting racks? Will sufficient light filter between the racks to enable curators, restorers and visiting specialists to examine the particular works they need to see? Bruynzeel, the company responsible for the depot’s internal arrangements, has devised painting racks especially for the Stedelijk. They have wheels at the top to minimise vibration when they are pulled out. In addition, wooden protective frames have been made for many of the paintings to prevent accidental damage. The floors and walls have special finishes to minimise dust, and incoming air is filtered by ventilation systems. Once all the art works have been moved into the new depot (a huge operation expected to take about seven months), some fifteen people will be employed in the building every day. The facilities include separate restoration studios for paper and for decorative arts and design objects, and a multifunctional studio. There is also a large carpentry shop, a photo studio, a framing workshop, an area for packing art works and a reading room for the use of both visitors and staff. And, finally, there are general service facilities for staff and visitors, such as a reception desk, a small canteen and a first aid station. The remaining restoration studios (for paintings and sculpture) are to be situated on the top floor of the original museum building, where 10

the windows in the sloping walls admit abundant light. Restoration of the original building: current status

A monumental striptease The accommodation provided by Weissman’s late-nineteenth century building had long been below-standard for a present-day museum. After almost a century, the place needed radical restoration. An additional problem was that today’s museums are no longer temples reserved for the use of art connoisseurs; attractive presentation is now hugely important and museums need to engage in public education and employ the latest audiovisual media. For this reason, the whole Weissman building has been gutted and stripped of all later additions, such as the mezzanine floors (like the print room half-way up the central staircase to the grand Reception Room). The brick walls of the galleries have been faced at a distance of 10 cm with double wooden panel walls. The climate control system is built into these walls and into the ceiling, with an optimum climate being maintained in the gallery by blowing air in from above and out from below. The panel walls are well-suited to the constant rehanging of art works and can easily be painted over for each new exhibition. Moreover, all the technical systems are concealed behind them rather than cluttering up the galleries. Feet on the floor The flooring in the galleries of the Weissman building is once again to be made of wood parquet, although the exact pattern has been the subject of heated debate. The original herringbone pattern has been rejected as being too traditional and the current preference is for a pattern of long oak strips laid east to west. The chosen flooring is also slightly ‘hammered’ to disguise the slight damage that will inevitably occur as thousands of feet walk over it. The new Stedelijk expects to welcome 600,000 visitors a year.

The Reception Room stripped bare

Work in the Paulus Potterstraat entrance hall


Seeing the light The Stedelijk has always been renowned for the quality of the natural light admitted into the galleries by its many rooflights. Everyone was keen to preserve that light quality but the desire to do so conflicted with present-day conservation standards. Excessive daylight is damaging to art works and natural light must therefore be to some extent filtered. The chosen solution was to install slatted blinds immediately under the rooflights, with neon lighting below them and an insulating, light-diffusing layer below that. The finishing touch is provided by a ‘velum’, a stretched fabric veil which further reduces the intensity of the light and makes it pleasantly diffuse. The arrangement produces a simulated daylight that is not damaging to exhibits. The slatted blinds can be adjusted according to the intensity of the light outside and, together with the neon lights, produce the desired daylight effect. On sunny days, the slats can be completely closed and the neon lights fully switched on, while on rainy days the slats can be fully or partly open and the neon lights slightly dimmed. The curators were initially sceptical about this system. However, a trial set-up permitting three situations to be simulated proved entirely convincing and staff voted unanimously in favour of the system. Daylighting by the stairs and in a gallery

Completion The renovation of the Weissman building will be completed by the summer of 2009, although various

The clock


internal arrangements, such as the lighting, climate control and security systems, will require final adjustment after that. Since these systems are centred in the new building, it will not be possible to test and adjust them much before the end of the year. There will be more information about the internal arrangements of the new Stedelijk in the next issue of this newsletter, to appear next autumn. Clockwise

The clock on the roof of the Weissman building has been the cause of considerable trouble during the work on the museum. When the museum closed in 2004, the new director, Gijs van Tuyl, lived in it for a while as an anti-squat measure. In 2007 he moved out and the demolition of the Sandberg Wing began. At that point, the builders disconnected the power supply and the clock stopped at 8.50 precisely. This proved to be particularly misleading for local residents and passersby, who were used to checking the time there on their way to work every morning. To allay the confusion, the association of Van Baerlestraat shopkeepers got the hands of the clock moved to 12 o’clock. Since then, however, the power has been switched on and off on various occasions and the hands have moved on again. Times change! But soon the clock will once again be a useful landmark and a help to the many passersby on their way to work in the city.

Demolition of the Sandberg Wing with the ‘marmot mound’ on the right

Demolition of the Sandberg Wing


The new Stedelijk: an eye-catcher on the Museumplein

Architect Mels Crouwel presenting his design

The pitch for the restoration and extension of the Stedelijk Museum was won by Benthem Crouwel Architekten. They proposed a beautiful restoration of the original building in the spirit of Willem Sandberg and the construction of a spectacular extension, with an eye-catching ‘floating’ bathtub over a new main entrance from the Museumplein. After further design work and other preparations, the construction of the new building began in April 2007 with a Japanese groundbreaking ceremony. In this interview, Mels Crouwel and Joost Vos talk about their extraordinary design.

Jan Benthem and Mels Crouwel have been working hand in hand for the last 30 years. The firm of Benthem Crouwel Architekten was set up in the 1970s and every design that leaves its offices has the backing of both of them: the agreement is that either can veto anything. A dual assignment: restoration of the existing building and the design of a new one. How did the process start? ‘A schedule of requirements had been drawn up after the previous Siza plan was rejected by the Sanders Committee. It was decided at that time to launch a new competition, and the requirements established several clear points of principle, to do with the museum’s views on the extension. One of them was that the main entrance should be moved from Paulus Potterstraat. In most of the many previous plans the entrance had been situated in Van Baerlestraat. We thought: if we’re going to change things, let’s do it properly and put it in the Museumplein. After all, it’s not called that for nothing. We wanted to produce a building in which visitors wouldn’t have to choose between the old and new parts. So we decided not only to turn everything around and put the entrance in the Museumplein, but to do it in such a way that people would enter the museum under the new-build section. That way, the new building will act as a kind of grand gateway for the existing one. Arriving in the entrance hall, visitors will be able to choose between three routes: straight on into the old building, down into the new-build basement exhibition space, or up to the top floor of the new building. Whatever they decide to do, they can take a route including both old and new sections. In most of the previous designs, the new building was a kind of pavilion standing in the grounds of the original museum, so they were always two separate buildings. In our design, they look like two buildings from the outside but in cross-section and floor plan they form a single structure. By tucking

away a large part of the new accommodation underground, we gained a lot of space and didn’t have to build all over the garden.’ How does the new building relate to the rest of the Museumplein? ‘Obviously, we had to take account of the ‘donkey’s ear’ [‘ezelsoor’: a tilted triangular expanse of grass in the Museumplein – ed.]. Even though that may in fact disappear when the Museumplein is remodelled, we took it as a given because we didn’t want to build right up against it, which would look very odd and always make the museum appear to be hidden away behind it. We have actually enlarged the Museumplein by creating an extra plaza on the side, behind the ‘donkey’s ear’, but at the same time it’s all part of the huge expanse of the Museumplein itself. When we were working on the design, we went to the Van Gogh Museum and asked them what their attitude would be if we moved the entrance to the Museumplein. They just said ‘Great – go ahead!’ and now they’re looking at the possibility of making an entrance of their own on the Museumplein side. The design of the Rietveld building makes it difficult to abandon their current main entrance, but they want to create a second entrance on the other side. Incidentally, the Stedelijk’s old Paulus Potterstraat entrance is going to become a separate way in for groups; and if there’s a vast permanent growth in visitor numbers or a sudden surge in attendance due to a blockbuster exhibition, it can also be used as a second entrance for individual visitors.

The Sandberg Wing in Van Baerlestraat… and what’s replacing it: the bathtub

It would be a very good thing for the Museumplein if there were another museum or some other major public building across the way, by the American embassy. It would increase the all-round use of the area. Two good designers (Michael van Gessel and Ton Schaap) have now been appointed to consider the lay-out of the Museumplein and I hope there will be scope for them to modify the present 15

Anderson design. The idea of the large expanse of grass has been selected as the point of departure – it’s not a park and not really a square, and that makes it unique in Europe – and that’s a good thing; but it’s currently designed on the wrong scale. It would be nice if the new designers were given the chance to make radical changes to improve the area. The idea of a plaza [in front of the entrance to the new Stedelijk – ed.] at the side of the Museumplein may then come into its own. Now there are plans to do away with the ‘donkey’s ear’, but we’ve designed the entrance to the Stedelijk in such a way that it doesn’t matter either way. If it is removed, it’s important it should be done carefully and an attractive new structure should be created for the car park and supermarket entrance. Then the new Stedelijk will be even better placed with its entrance from the Museumplein and the routing to the Rijksmuseum will also be improved. It would be a good thing for the city if the museums in the area worked hand in hand, because obviously a lot of people are going to be attracted once it’s all finished. It’s a golden opportunity.’ Does your design take account of the collection and its likely future growth? ‘I know the Stedelijk well and I’m familiar with the large twentiethcentury collection. Personally, I (MC) feel most affinity with the parts dating from the directorships of Edy De Wilde and Wim Beeren [1963-1985 and 1985-1993 respectively – ed.]. So far as our design is concerned, we paid particular consideration to the immediate post-war period. The design is flexible, because I’m sure future directors will wish to make their own changes, like using a whole wing for a particular exhibition or switching everything around again. So we haven’t designed the Weissman building specifically to accommodate the permanent collection and the new extension specifically for temporary exhibitions: all options are open.

The Museumplein; centre left, the Stedelijk with its new extension and the ‘donkey’s ear’

Model of the new extension


It was Gijs van Tuyl’s idea at any rate to re-open with the permanent collection in the Weissman building and then start with Mike Kelley in the new extension. I think that’s sensible, given that the permanent collection has been out of sight for so long and that’s what will bring in the tourists. But there’s no reason why the Reception Room in the old building couldn’t be used for temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection couldn’t be hung in the new building. Photographs and works on paper will be shown in the smaller exhibition rooms (so-called ‘cabinets’) in the old building, which are particularly suitable for that use because of their intimate scale and sloping walls.’ ‘We have also chosen to install an enclosed escalator leading directly down to the underground exhibition space, so that the exhibition is not interrupted by the entry hall and the same atmosphere can be maintained throughout. It would even be possible to use sound, smell and light to maintain the continuity of an exhibition between the floors; it’s all very flexible. The new extension offers various facilities for new media, including a kind of theatre for film and video and a 150-seat auditorium. It also has exhibition areas upstairs and an area for educational activities, a reading room and a children’s workshop in the basement. Down there, there’s also a vast exhibition space: 1100 m2, compared with the 350 m2 Reception Room in the Weissman building. We don’t expect it to be used very often as a single space, though; it can be split up in all sorts of different ways using moveable walls to make multiple exhibition areas.’ Have many changes been made to the original 2004 design? ‘The main changes have really been to the floor plan in the behind-thescenes part of the new extension: the studio for restoration activities, the workshop, the technical services areas and the transit depot (for the acclimatisation of art works). The schedule of requirements also called for a number of

rooms with side-lighting, but some of these have been eliminated. We’d also envisaged a kind of patio to let daylight into the basement but that idea was eventually dropped to cut costs. Not that it’s much of a loss, because the result is a clear dividing line between natural light upstairs and artificial light downstairs. Anyway, these days there are ways of making artificial light look completely natural. We can now produce a range of sorts of light in the old building.’ Does the design have any drawbacks? ‘The building doesn’t have a rear; all the sides are now frontages. That’s a problem because every building needs a side or rear entrance to let goods vehicles and refuse carts come and go without interfering with visitor traffic. There’s really nowhere to put out restaurant waste or deliver office stationery, because the museum is open to the public all round, in a pedestrian area where large delivery vehicles are banned. We thought about it, of course, but couldn’t ultimately come up with a solution, even though that’s what we’re so good at. We did Schiphol and found good ways of managing that aspect of things there. Here, we’ve been less successful. On the other hand, there are huge advantages to the fact that the area fronting onto the Museumplein is so open and public. It’s going to create a very inviting entrance to the museum, there under the bathtub.’ Who actually thought of calling it the bathtub? ‘We did! We wanted to get in first, because it’s always good to have a nickname. Oddly enough, the name caught on as soon as we started using it. We even had a meeting about it with the Stedelijk. They weren’t too keen at first but in the end they agreed to it. To begin with, I (MC) sometimes called it the Boeing because it looked as if it was hanging in the air and because it was such a big, white lump of a thing, but that wasn’t really the right name for it. It really does look like a bathtub, standing there on its feet, all smooth and white and seamless. 17

Initial model of the winning design

Jan Benthem and Mels Crouwel

Since then, we’ve always called it that ourselves.’ The material for the bathtub ‘The bathtub is made of a very special kind of plastic that won’t shrink or expand, so that it can be made without seams. Buildings always have visible joins (unless they’re stuccoed over) so this is a really unique point (JV). The material is used a lot in the shipbuilding industry but a building of this length without seams is something entirely new. The sheets of plastic are delivered in three-metre-wide sections, because they have to fit onto a lorry. As in yacht-building, the sections are joined together with the wide seams being finished off first and then filled and given a coat of primer. Then, finally, the whole structure has to be finished and painted; it’s not easy to get it looking smooth and immaculate. Before the bathtub is constructed, the area will be closed off and roofed in to avoid problems with the weather or with dust and dirt flying about. So the whole thing will be out of sight and the impact will be all the greater when it’s finally unveiled.’ What about sustainability? ‘Well, of course, we’ve also taken care to make it sustainable. There are a number of factors involved. We’re talking about the restoration and re-use of an existing building, and that in itself is one of the most sustainable ways to do things. Moreover, we’re creating a large space underground, a basement, and that’s an extremely low-energy option: a closed box with extremely good heat insulation all round and no windows to create heat loss. The same goes for the bathtub, and one of the big advantages of the awning is that it will keep a lot of sun out of the building. The entrance hall is the only place where it will be hard to control the internal climate, but that’s also the area where climate control is least important; after all, people will come in wearing coats and there will be no sensitive art works there. So the building will be very good from the energy point of view.

The landing with the preserved granito floor. The shop has gone, replaced by a café looking out onto Paulus Potterstraat

The central entrance hall under the bathtub in Museumplein

Provisional design for the café/restaurant on the ground floor, made by Gilian Schrofer of Concern


Last year there was a whole debate about whether or not the plastic used to make the bathtub was sustainable. There are a number of issues: how much energy does it take to produce the material, how long will it last and how much maintenance will it need? If you consider its whole lifecycle, the material turns out to cost relatively little to make and use and to have a hugely long lifespan. And the only maintenance required is the odd coat of paint from time to time. Obviously, the museum will consume more energy than in the past, because it’s going to have an extra building. Also, the old Stedelijk had no climate control system, whereas the requirements for the restoration and new extension demanded one. So energy consumption is bound to be higher. But, given the way everything is designed, I (JV) think the new Stedelijk will definitely score better than a building that’s entirely above ground.’ How far as you involved in the interior design? ‘We’ll deliver the building exhibitionready. In other words, complete with wooden flooring, suspended ceilings, internal walls, lighting, climate control system, and so forth. The fixtures and fittings are our responsibility while the refreshment areas are being designed by Gilian Schrofer of Concern; that’s how the Stedelijk wanted it. Benthem Crouwel is doing the shop, the ticket desk and the interior of the knowledge centre. And then there’ll be signage and graphic work by the new French designer Pierre di Sciullo’. Consideration is still being given to the furnishing of the galleries but it’s not yet clear whether money will be available for new seating. Maybe the old Visser benches will be put back into the galleries – though I’d be sorry to see it (MC). We’ve designed a new bench that goes really well with the new flooring and the bathtub – a real new Stedelijk bench. But the question is whether there’ll be the cash for it. Maybe a sponsor can be found...

The same flooring for the old and new buildings? ‘Gijs van Tuyl thought the herringbone pattern of the old parquet was too dominant and distracting. He was quite right, but that floor was very much a feature of the Stedelijk. You have to be careful not make this kind of building too sterile, then it’s just a modern gallery in an old shell. That’s why we chose a different kind of wood and a different pattern, but the same flooring throughout the museum: that way, it’ll be more of a whole. The granito composite floor in the central area is being restored and the trademark grand staircase will now really come into its own. We’ve also made other changes, like removing the old, suspended velums from the galleries to uncover the original curved ceiling coves. The ceilings now look much higher but also more old-fashioned. We’ve compensated by up-dating the appearance of the passageways between the galleries and the suspended ceilings in them. By doing that, we hope we’ve maintained the balance between old and new so that, when the museum opens again, visitors will feel it’s still the same old Stedelijk they know and love.’ Is the new Stedelijk also new for BCA? ‘We’re not known for being showy and this is a pretty spacey design by our standards. The old building is a well-known Amsterdam landmark, but there are plenty of similar buildings and it isn’t particularly conspicuous. We were keen to produce something eye-catching that would put the Stedelijk back on the map, nationally and internationally. The funny thing is that it looks so spectacular from outside, but inside all you see are simple rectangular galleries with good lighting. So the whole thing is made for art, with architecture dominating outside and art inside.’


Building News 1  

August 2009

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