“The depot will be a magnificent 3D wonder.”
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen will be almost as high as the museum’s beacon and is designed by Winy Maas of the internationally renowned acclaimed architectural firm MVRDV. Under his leadership MVRDV doesn’t only focus on design, but also on investigations into urban and landscape architecture.
The first pile is always an important moment for the architect. What was the mood when the first pile for the depot went into the ground?
That moment was widely celebrated. Not just by me and the museum director, but also by our teams, Rotterdam City Council, all the consultants and colleagues from the surrounding museums involved. The trajectory was very emotional for everyone involved and when the first pile was sunk we abundantly celebrated that moment. Now that the first pile is sunk we have passed a point of no return. The more piles driven in the better [laughs].
Do you still have the original sketch of the design of the building?
There wasn’t actually a sketch. It was more a moment when we were sitting round the table with the team discussing what kind of building it had to be, taking into account the number of preconditions. In fact, the ‘sketch’ was a round sugar bowl that was on the table, an eye-opener that we had to design a building you could walk round. That gave us the idea for the bowl shape.
Why did the design of the building have to be that shape?
Spatially, the idea of a round building worked very well. Primarily from an urban development viewpoint; a round building has a small base and will occupy less space in the park. The curve of the building is inviting because you can see round it.
Why is the façade reflective? Is it a response to the selfie culture where people photograph themselves against reflective works of art?
In a certain sense it is, but the first thought was inspired by landscape design: How do you make a park bigger? In heavily populated areas like cities, you want to make the world a bit larger and the reflectiveness can help to increase that effect. The reflective façade also helps you to get a massive building to integrate and blend in with the museum park. It will become part of it and it will appear to make the area of the park larger. I couldn’t care less about this selfie culture, but it does help. If you take a selfie in this building, photograph yourself with the other parks, the rose garden, Claes Oldenburg’s Screw Arch, the terrace and the artwork on the square by Pipilotti Rist, you are recording yourself in the surroundings in a more layered, exciting selfie because of the distortion of the curvature in the mirrors – a selfie 2.0.
Is the curvature of the reflective facade the greatest architectural challenge of this project?
Definitely. It will be a magnificent three-dimensional wonder. We are trying to make it as perfect as possible and we are working on reducing the space between the reflective panels from twenty millimetres to eight. We want the facade to be almost seamless, like Anish Kapoor’s public artwork ‘Cloud Gate’ in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
What do you think of the current urban development of Rotterdam and what role can the depot play in it?
I think that Rotterdam takes a very intelligent approach. A city has to have a number of landmarks that attract tourists and are embraced and used by the residents. The city should provide a kaleidoscope of cultural interests, meet social needs and create energy. You will soon be able to take a tour around the Schieblock, a creative meeting place with studios and semi-public spaces in Rotterdam, then you can go to the Markthal, continue past the Maritime Museum, view the Erasmus Bridge and Rem Koolhaas’s De Rotterdam, then go on to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the depot. These are places that are complementary and will offer the city richness and depth. It makes the city broader and more interesting; you serve many cultures and it also makes the city less vulnerable because you can serve different economies. That is one of the tasks of current urban development.
What is the interior of the depot going to look like?
There will be five different climatological spaces in the depot because the artworks are going to be kept under different conditions. There will be a large void in the middle of the building surrounded by depot spaces like a gallery. These are like cells in which the art is stored safely. The word ‘cells’ sounds unpleasant, but it’s a paradox. It’s better to accept it and go along with it. The trick is to throw open the doors of those cells. What happens then is that a market-like feeling is created between those cells – the sort of thing you see in films like ‘Papillon’ – which I think is totally phenomenal. You’ll walk along the gallery and you’ll see what’s going on in the different spaces. It works almost like an art fair, where gallery owners all have stands measuring a number of square metres to exhibit the work of their artists. Sharing art is fantastic and it is great that private collectors are going to show their collections to the public. The design of the building is ideal for that. The discussion about public and private art and the increase of private museums is an extremely topical one, in which the depot can play an active role.
What do you think is important in the expansion of the museum with a new building?
Sublimity. Museums challenge cultural intelligence and have a philosophical task. This is how we have to assess the relationship with museums. I think that the Rijksmuseum has done that extremely well by making the interior conceived by Jean-Michel Wilmotte black. Truly fantastic! How do you dare do that? It’s really a clever choice because all of a sudden everything becomes a treasure house, even the architecture does: brilliant.
Why do you think that’s brilliant?
I expect museums to play a role in the dialogue about the culture of the future, innovation’s role in it and how you can create it. It’s absolutely fine that museums ‘misuse’ architecture to formulate that answer. That challenges me and other architects to think about it. It keeps you on your toes.