Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Despite its vast collection of modern and contemporary art and its role in defining those very fields, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has been trapped in time. Its original, neo-Renaissance brick building, which opened in 1895, has limited space and outdated mechanical systems which has prevented the museum from borrowing art that requires a controlled environment.
After closing its doors for renovation in 2004, the museum selected the Dutch firm Benthem Crouwel to update the interiors of the existing building and design a much-needed new wing. Their shiny white addition, which is attached to the brick structure but stands in stark contrast to it, opens to the public this month. Some see it as a bathtub, while others view it as a boat out of water, all of which satisfies the architects.
“We did not want to add a garden pavilion,” says Mels Crouwel, a principal at the firm. “With that scenario, there would always be discussions between curators and artists about which exhibitions go in which building.” Instead, Crouwel created a consistent interior environment by using the same finishes and materials throughout.
“In section and plan, it’s one large museum,” he explains. “Once you’re inside, you can’t tell if you’re in old or new.” From the outside, however, there’s no mistaking the two. In order to create a seamless surface, the architects picked Twaron, a synthetic fiber commonly used in boats, to clad the new structure. Aside from lending the building a maritime air, Twaron barely expands or contracts in response to changes in temperature, limiting the stress on the precise connections to the historic structure.
Benthem Crouwel also designed the new building as the museum’s public face. As a result, the Stedelijk now opens on to Amsterdam’s Museumplein, a grassy public space that it shares with the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Concertgebouw. Visitors ascend from a large entry plaza to the galleries on a tubular escalator that riffs on the museum’s original, iconic staircase.
In their 1923 manifesto, the Dutch avant-garde group De Stijl, some of whose founding artists first met at the Stedelijk, claimed to “have examined architecture as a plastic unit made up of industry and technology.” Nearly 90 years later, the Stedelijk, with its fresh aesthetic and literally plastic unit, is finally anchors aweigh.