Marten Baas: Room on the Roof 01.04.15

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The designer’s residency in i29's studio above an Amsterdam department store culminated in a shopfront clock made of 600 rapid sketches – one for every minute of the working day

Perched above Amsterdam’s de Bijenkorf department store – the city’s leading purveyor of style – is a modest neoclassical tower. A 16sq m room topped by a cupola, it’s little noticed, and has never been used. However, it has now been kitted out by Dutch design practice i29 as the studio for a new artist-in-residence project in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, entitled Room on the Roof. The tower is reached by criss-crossing the store’s roof, then entering the attics of the mansard roof that skirts its perimeter. These spaces are crammed with slabs of raw concrete – despite appearances, de Bijenkorf was one of the first concrete buildings in the Netherlands when built in 1912.

Ascending a narrow spiral staircase, visitors emerge into the tower’s bright interior. The walls are painted white, and the 6m-high space is flooded by light from tall arched windows on three sides, each offering an impressive view of the city. To one side sits a white armchair, as well as a rug, telescope, coffee table and hatstand (again, all white). A second iron staircase spirals up the centre of the room to the open cupola above (sadly not accessible). However, the room is dominated by a shallow, wall-to-ceiling studio structure immaculately crafted in contrasting pine.

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Baas spent a day making almost 600 sketches of the Beurs van Berlage clocktower

This incorporates a little shutter to cover the final view – of staff huddling to smoke on the roof, and the red-light district beyond. Standing a little proud of the walls for conservation reasons, it is an oversized, right-angled homage to the cabinet, composed of individual pods at various heights for storage, resting and studying, as well as a small kitchen. Each level is connected by vertical ladders that enhance the room’s fairy-tale quality.

The combination of spiral staircases and sheer ladders suggests that Room on the Roof is firmly angled towards the young and svelte among the creative community. One such, Marten Baas, recently completed the project’s first residency. Following a number of visits with his team, he ventured a clever twist on his long-running clock fetish – by chance, his Grandfather Clock of 2008, with blurred footage of a grandfather drawing every passing minute projected on its face, is currently on display at the Rijksmuseum.

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All of Room on the Roof’s other furnishings are white

For Room on the Roof, after various scouting missions to the tower, Baas positioned himself by the north window overlooking Amsterdam’s old stock exchange, the Beurs van Berlage – an influential forerunner of Dutch modernist architecture completed in 1903. Dominating Baas’s view was its imposing clocktower, with the words “Beidt Uw Tyd” (“Bide Your Time”) in small mosaic tiles facing towards de Bijenkorf.

Over the course of one day, Baas, with occasional help from assistants, drew one rapid A4 sketch in black ink from this window for every single minute of the store’s opening hours, incorporating the tower and its motto (including frequent misspellings of the latter), and capturing the gradual progress of the clock’s hands. Almost 600 drawings resulted, which were then copied 14 times, and, for a period of two weeks, one of Baas’s collaborators, the actor Leon Van Egmond, occupied a display space in a corner widow at the front of the store.

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i29’s design includes a freestanding pine structure of pods for living and working

Each and every minute of the working day, this rather earthy-looking man, clad in blue overalls, briskly hung the appropriate black-and-white sketch in a frame sited in the front-facing window to tell passersby the time. Moving to an adjoining area visible from the side window, he then fitted the next drawing into a matching frame, working to a 60-second deadline. The previous sketch was simultaneously shredded, creating voluminous piles of curled paper that pushed up against the glass of the window. This second space was decorated as a factory, with football stickers, discarded frames, a power saw, wire strippers, set squares and a couple of pieces of furniture from Baas’s hand-modelled Clay collection of 2006. In addition, a video of Baas in action sketching the original sketches in the tower played on a constant loop.

The result, as one might expect from Baas, was effectively wry – a crafted commentary on the labour and lives that lie behind luxury. The window displays worked as a polite yet insidious reminder to those leaving de Bijenkorf, clutching their fancy new shopping bags, that all these fantasies come at a cost – there are other worlds out there, and a little sand had drained out of their own personal hourglasses as they wandered these halls of delight. Whether any of the participants – Baas, the Rijksmuseum or, in particular, de Bijenkorf – is in a moral position to pose such questions is debatable, but, as a gentle memento mori, it had undeniable intelligence and style. The programme is off to a fine start.

This article first appeared in Icon 143

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The room is housed in a neoclassical tower on top of the
de Bijenkorf store

 

Words

John Jervis

quotes story

The combination of spiral staircases and sheer ladders suggests that Room on the Roof is firmly angled towards the young and svelte among the creative community

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