Government Architect Jo Coenen has nominated the Spanish architecture team of Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz for the task of preparing the Rijksmuseum for the 21st century. This adds an unexpected chapter to the historical ties, evident in this very museum, between the Netherlands and Spain.
After a European tender process, seven architects were invited to present strategies to extend the Rijksmuseum on the basis of a study prepared by the Government Building Agency and an exercise by Ruissenaars, as Coenen called it. In his review of the projects, Coenen notes that all architects without exception had discovered just how beautiful the building is. A notable feature is that all seven propose opening up the light wells and, with the exception of Heinz Tesar, roof them over, and all of them retain the bicycle route underneath the building. Francesco Venezia made the most radical proposal: he placed a labyrinthine building over the pond on Museumplein (Museum Square). Houses in the centre of this building, right above the pond, are the Rijksmuseum's most prized works.
But the choice fell to Cruz (1948) and Ortiz (1947). During their careers they have acquired experience with the renovation of existing buildings. Their additions are always clearly recognizable but never grab the attention – restrained yet distinct. In their proposal for the New Rijksmuseum they seek to undo the damage done over the years. In the process they attach great importance to circulation and orientation. All their proposed alterations are geared to this end. The bicycle route is retained and the light wells are thrown open. From the passageway beneath, visitors ascend escalators to enter a space connecting the east and west wings. Ticket desks are located in the light wells. Located in the western light well are facilities for education and the entrance to the exhibitions. In the eastern light well are the shop and cafe. The light sculptures give a distinct ambience to each of the wells and improve orientation. A new pavilion, built to house Asian art, is situated between the main building and the southern wing.
Cruz and Ortiz propose minimal alterations to the building itself. Their aim is to maximize use of the existing stairwells. On the uppermost level they propose to ease orientation by adding a number of small windows, painted in muted colours so they won't compete with the works on display. To improve acoustic performance carpets are laid out on the floors. Woven into them is a decorative pattern by Kuipers. According to Ortiz, their major concern was to deal with the circulation and light wells. The whole discussion about what type of museum the New Rijksmuseum should be did not influence their design. Neither did the discussion about the interior have any impact, except where it dealt with circulation. He is not totally sure about how the collaboration between themselves and the restoration architects, yet to be chosen, will evolve. On Friday next week the restoration architects will present their scheme and the Spanish team will be there too, says Ortiz. They will then discuss the further course of action and decide when to start.
The Rijksmuseum, which houses the most treasured works in the Netherlands, is to be renovated by two Spaniards. According to Ortiz, only a foreigner could have been given the commission since 'the Dutch architects simply knew too much to allow them to think with an open mind'. Looking at the submissions of the Dutch entrants, you'd have to agree.