Rijksmuseum by Cruz Y Ortiz 25.04.13

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The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a massive romantic confection, an art museum in the polychrome eclectic style of the late 19th century, designed by Pierre Cuypers and home to some of the most important art works in Dutch history. Despite its overblown size, in recent years it had begun to find itself overwhelmed by increasing numbers of visitors, prompting the decision to renovate and restore the building. This task – the largest restoration of its kind ever undertaken – is currently nearing completion, to a design by Seville architect Cruz y Ortiz.

Over the years, the Rijksmuseum had, like many large art galleries of a certain age, accumulated various adaptations and alterations to the original design. "During the 20th century the building had been very badly treated," says Antonio Ortiz, partner at Cruz y Ortiz. "It had become completely labyrinthine and difficult to understand."

The architects made it their strategy to strip the building back to its original design, removing inserted walls and floors and restoring the galleries to their original size and decorative schemes, while also freeing up the two massive courtyards and the passageway that runs between them. As well as restoring, they would install the new programme that a contemporary museum requires: cafes, shops, auditoriums, children's areas and so on.

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Working within existing buildings is challenging enough, but a building in such a rich style presents its own special challenges. "It was this period of overwhelming architecture," Ortiz says. "There were no breaks, no places for another architect to add without touching something sensitive." The approach the practice has taken is rather sophisticated. In the highly altered courtyards, for example, a new stone has been chosen that complements the existing luxurious colours and textures without mimicking them and, throughout, the details are stern but recognisably classical in spirit. Hanging down into the courtyard spaces are what Ortiz nicknames "chandeliers"– large rectangular barred structures that provide lighting and acoustic baffling but also make these large spaces seem more intimate. Furthermore, the elongated rhythm of these "chandeliers" clearly echoes that of the original iron and glass roof above, extending its constructional logic. "We never made any abuse of contrast, or juxtaposition," says Ortiz. "Of course, anybody can notice what is new and what is retained, but nobody is going to be overwhelmed by it."

As well as the painstaking restoration work, Cruz y Ortiz has designed a few new structures, too. A wing in the gardens, which houses historic art from east Asia, has been built in a completely different, angular manner to the main museum. And the restoration studios have been relocated to a rugged brick building across the road, with a saw-tooth profile common to many recent "art factories".

It has been a long and complex project – Cruz y Ortiz won the competition for the work back in 2000 – and it is still not quite finished, meaning it has been a real labour of love for the studio. "Architects, we have to be tenacious," Ortiz says. "It's a necessary condition."

 

Image

Pedro Pegenaute

 

Words

Douglas Murphy

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There were no breaks, no places for another architect to add without touching something sensitive

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