Is the Boijmans Van Beuningen repository the future museum?

Three years ago, as a member of the press relations department of the Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV, I visited the construction site of the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, a new storage facility for 151,000 objects from the collection. of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Viewing works of art in the private funds of an institution is generally reserved for curators and researchers who make an appointment to defend a thesis in person. However, Depot’s innovative building, which houses 63,000 paintings, photographs, films, pre-industrial design and design objects, contemporary art installations and sculptures, as well as 88,000 prints and drawings, is different; it is designed as an extension of the museum itself, its collection is on display to the public and recently opened for the first time.

Located in the heart of Rotterdam’s museum district, it can be hard to imagine not seeing Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen’s glittering mirror dome from afar. “However, it does appear to be a sort of mirage at the turn, tucked away next to the urban Museumpark and flanked by the Art Deco masterpieces Sonneveld House and Chabot Museum with the original Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen building, the Kunsthal Rotterdam Het Nieuwe Instituut and the nearby Erasmus University Medical Center.

The new Boijmans Van Beuningen Depot in Rotterdam, the Netherlands by MVRDV.

It was built in response to the Museum’s great storage problems, both non-existent and unsuitable for art. Since the 1970s, the museum had distributed its off-display art collection to various local and international storage facilities, and its own underground storage caves were at risk of flooding. Thus, the museum has forged a partnership between itself, the municipality of Rotterdam and the De Verre Bergen Foundation to remedy its lack of surface area and simultaneously open its collection to more visitors than ever before. Designed by MVRDV and constructed by BAM Bouw en Techniek, the building measures almost 161,500 square feet (15,000 square meters) and has a significant program of storage facilities, a flexible rooftop restaurant / event space, workshops and Presentation rooms, as well as a roof garden with a breathtaking view of the city from a height of 115 feet (35 meters). Landscaping of birches, grasses and pines to retain water, promote biodiversity, reduce the urban heat island effect and prevent the felling of trees that once inhabited the Museum’s current site.

art storage
The art storage also serves as an exhibition space inside the Boijmans Van Beuningen depot.

“The purpose of the Depot is to grow over time; it’s also about compartmentalization, an important feature of our time, ”explains Winy Maas, Director of MVRDV. “There are limitless possibilities through these exhibits and through these spaces, from the intimate to the grandiose. “

As if stepping into a futuristic spaceship, the mirrored facade panels open to allow visitors to enter the austere, well-lit concrete interior of the six-story depot, where a reception desk, a restroom, shop, and lockers on the first floor lead to an impressive atrium with a maze of walkways and transparent stairs. Works of art from all media are displayed on the walls, floors and in stairwells as if suspended in space.

atrium
The atrium.

Designed as an alternative to the white cube, proto-museum or cabinet of curiosities (Wunderkammers), this building continues the historic salon-style exhibition, hanging objects by category but not necessarily correctly, leaving the viewer to make their own meanings and associations. The Boijmans Van Beuningen depot takes this idea even further. Designed in collaboration with artist Marieke van Diemen, the atrium’s non-linear exhibits also include thirteen large glass display cases featuring works by artists such as Maurizio Cattelan, Iris van Herpen, Auguste Rodin, Job Wouters and Sarkis.

The building also includes conservation and restoration studios, a cinema hall, two small cinema booths, two study rooms and two galleries for exhibitions. Most of the floor space is made up of the twenty compartments of the repository, fourteen for the museum collection and six available for hire. During the press tour, a conservator at work restores a red and white polka dot sculpture Yayoi Kusama, part of the artist Hall of Infinity Mirrors – Phalli’s Field (floor show), was clearly visible. In the painting storage space, small groups of visitors watched the works closely, pulling out selected shelves while donning signature white dust coats.

The Boijmans Van Beuningen deposit is presented as a model typology for the future of museums, where the fluidity of the building highlights spaces usually prohibited. The depot is by far the most unusual building in this district, and perhaps the city in general, despite Rotterdam’s long history of achieving iconic buildings through experimental constructions that have transformed the port city into a destination of world class for architectural innovation. Time will tell if others follow suit in this daring attempt to let the public penetrate deep into the collection, where no other museum has done before.

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