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Yona Friedman

Blog Building of the Week

Tub Time

  • Thanks to the continuous glass façade at groundfloor level, the 'bathtub' seems to float in the air. The 40 meter deep roof overhang creates a sheltered 'piazza' in front of the new main entrance. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 1 / 17  Thanks to the continuous glass façade at groundfloor level, the 'bathtub' seems to float in the air. The 40 meter deep roof overhang creates a sheltered 'piazza' in front of the new main entrance. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • The sleek façade of the extension consists of 271 composite panels, made of resin with synthetic fibre Twaron. A glossy coating hides the seams between the panels. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 2 / 17  The sleek façade of the extension consists of 271 composite panels, made of resin with synthetic fibre Twaron. A glossy coating hides the seams between the panels. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • On top of the bathtub overhang sits the top floor, where the light-flooded offices offer a great view over the Museumplein park. Photo: Ernst van Deursen 3 / 17  On top of the bathtub overhang sits the top floor, where the light-flooded offices offer a great view over the Museumplein park. Photo: Ernst van Deursen
  • Bird's eye view along the Museumplein park with the Stedelijk on the left, above it the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum at the top. Under the adjacent triangular piece of lawn lies a supermarket. The metal-clad tower in front is the new goods elev 4 / 17  Bird's eye view along the Museumplein park with the Stedelijk on the left, above it the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum at the top. Under the adjacent triangular piece of lawn lies a supermarket. The metal-clad tower in front is the new goods elev
  • The original Stedelijk, designed in neorenaissance style by A.W. Weissman, opened in 1895. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 5 / 17  The original Stedelijk, designed in neorenaissance style by A.W. Weissman, opened in 1895. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • The extension is designed as a clearly separate building, hardly touching the old museum. A strip of roof lights keeps the two volumes at a distance. On the first floor, two corridors connect the buildings like airplane passenger bridges. Photo: John L 6 / 17  The extension is designed as a clearly separate building, hardly touching the old museum. A strip of roof lights keeps the two volumes at a distance. On the first floor, two corridors connect the buildings like airplane passenger bridges. Photo: John L
  • Thanks to the opaque skin of the escalator tube, visitors don't notice that they're crossing the busy entrance area when moving up or down from one hall to the next. According to the architects, this creates a continuous museum experience. Photo: John& 7 / 17  Thanks to the opaque skin of the escalator tube, visitors don't notice that they're crossing the busy entrance area when moving up or down from one hall to the next. According to the architects, this creates a continuous museum experience. Photo: John&
  • Walls and ceilings in the old museum building have all been painted white. What visitors don't see is the new fire safety and climatization system. 8 / 17  Walls and ceilings in the old museum building have all been painted white. What visitors don't see is the new fire safety and climatization system.
  • The ‘tub’ is supported by round-edged pillars, which merge seamlessly with the ceiling. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 9 / 17  The ‘tub’ is supported by round-edged pillars, which merge seamlessly with the ceiling. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • From ground level, a broad staircase leads visitors either up or down, to the two museum halls in the new part of the museum. The yellow tube contains the escalator. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 10 / 17  From ground level, a broad staircase leads visitors either up or down, to the two museum halls in the new part of the museum. The yellow tube contains the escalator. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • The underground exhibition hall extends under the 'piazza'. With 2,300 square meters it is the biggest exhibition space in the Netherlands. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 11 / 17  The underground exhibition hall extends under the 'piazza'. With 2,300 square meters it is the biggest exhibition space in the Netherlands. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • The former restaurant space in the old building has been turned into a special hall for a mural, designed by Dutch artist Karel Appel in 1956. Photo: John Lewis Marshall 12 / 17  The former restaurant space in the old building has been turned into a special hall for a mural, designed by Dutch artist Karel Appel in 1956. Photo: John Lewis Marshall
  • The longitudinal section shows the arrangement of rooms in the new extension, with offices on the top floor, exhibition hall and auditorium on the first floor, foyer on the ground floor and another exhibition hall in the basement. 13 / 17  The longitudinal section shows the arrangement of rooms in the new extension, with offices on the top floor, exhibition hall and auditorium on the first floor, foyer on the ground floor and another exhibition hall in the basement.
  • In the cross section, the extension appears like a natural continuation of the old building, its roof line and -shape perfectly adapted to the neorenaissance architecture. The section also shows how far the underground exhibition hall extends under the 14 / 17  In the cross section, the extension appears like a natural continuation of the old building, its roof line and -shape perfectly adapted to the neorenaissance architecture. The section also shows how far the underground exhibition hall extends under the
  • The former main entrance in the north façade of the old building, leading towards the grand staircase, has been closed. Now the entrance is located in the south façade, with ticket counters and gift shop to its right and staircase and res 15 / 17  The former main entrance in the north façade of the old building, leading towards the grand staircase, has been closed. Now the entrance is located in the south façade, with ticket counters and gift shop to its right and staircase and res
  • Whilst the old building is divided into a labyrinth of small spaces, the new extension houses two large-scale halls with a total of 3,400 square meters exhibition space. 16 / 17  Whilst the old building is divided into a labyrinth of small spaces, the new extension houses two large-scale halls with a total of 3,400 square meters exhibition space.
  • At sub-basement level, the footprint of the old building is nearly doubled. This is where the biggest exhibition space is located, and it's also where artworks and goods enter the museum. 17 / 17  At sub-basement level, the footprint of the old building is nearly doubled. This is where the biggest exhibition space is located, and it's also where artworks and goods enter the museum.

Last weekend, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – once one of the most important museums of modern art in Europe – opened its doors again, after nine years of refurbishment. Its new extension, designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, has been nicknamed the ‘bathtub’. Sprouting from the rear of the old brick museum building, the bulky new structure with its glossy white skin has already proven a bone of contention. While the Dutch press is full of praise, the LA Times calls it "an oversized, antiseptic and mismatched design", German newspaper Die Welt speaks of “another insult of architecture against art”, and comments on Dezeen range from “a bad joke” to “looks like a stage set from a Kubrick film”.

Most inhabitants of Amsterdam, though, are simply relieved to finally have their Stedelijk back. After all, the reopening was preceded by two decades of haggling about the renovation and extension project. It all started in the early nineties, when the old museum proved to be too small and in dire need of renovation. A first design by Robert Venturi and a second one by Alvaro Siza were deemed too expensive, but it was only in 2002 that these plans were finally abandoned. A year later, the museum was shut down because of safety concerns, and moved temporarily into two storeys of a disused highrise office. In 2004, when funds were finally granted, a new design competition was held and won by Amsterdam-based office Benthem Crouwel. But due to difficulties during construction and the bankruptcy of one contractor, the refurbishment again got delayed for four years during which the museum had to leave its temporary home and disappeared completely – until it was finally reopened two weeks ago. Is this now the happy end to a long, tragic story?

Maybe. A huge white volume now floats behind the old building, comprising the entrance hall, restaurant, gift shop, library, info centre, offices, auditorium and two large exhibition halls. The main entrance has been relocated to the new addition, moving it from the street to the so-called 'piazza' – which is, in fact, a euphemism for a leftover space between the museum extension, the shaft of its goods elevator and the back of a neighbouring supermarket. As the elevator shaft illustrates, routing and logistics are the main hitches of the design. The foyer is crossed by an awkward yellow tube, containing an escalator that connects the new exhibition hall underground with the one on the first floor. Not only because of this pragmatic solution, but also due to the colours and materials used, the foyer has the feel of an airport terminal rather thana museum entrance. However, once you are inside, the extension and the old building seem to blend into each other almost seamlessly. Old and new halls have been painted uniformly white and feature the same wooden flooring, providing a perfect White Cube experience.

This subtle treatment of the interior stands in stark contrast to the obtrusive overall shape of the extension, which seems to be quite arbitrary – with the exception of the bevelled roof storey, which houses the offices and is a formal reference to the rooflights of the old building. The new Stedelijk Museum is one of those buildings which inspire either love or hate, leaving little room for indifference. It's clearly a building which aspires to become an icon, but it's also clearly a building created by architects who have a knack for airports and offices rather than cultural projects. That said, buildings with ambitions are always intriguing, and what's more fun than a good dose of controversy? One thing is for sure: this bathtub is anything but lukewarm.

- Anneke Bokern, Amsterdam

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