Redesign Centraal Museum Utrecht, 2011-2016
When the Centraal Museum approached Soda, at the end of 2009, with the request to solve the unclear routing in the museum, resulting in baffled visitors, it soon became clear that the solution was not to put up new signs. Together with the museum, an analysis was made > see 'Advice'.
This analysis led to a vision which served as a starting point for the redesign of the museum. The design and realisation of the redisign were carried out by Soda+, a collaboration of Jorrit Noyons and Ronald Buïel of Soda and the architects Gabri Klarenbeek and Hagen Zeisberg.
The Centraal Museum is housed in a cluster of diverse constituent buildings. They vary in their original use: a former Medieval convent, a chapel, cavalry stables, a children's home and a museum. They are also diverse regarding their architectural style and era, ranging from 1420 to 1998. As a whole, they reveal the history of Utrecht from the Middle Ages onwards. Each constituent building has its own identity, particular history and individual relationship to its surroundings and the city of Utrecht.
The search for every building's particular context, and reinforcing and amplifying its character, was a major starting point for the restructuring. Additionally, the connections between the buildings have been accentuated and the visual relation with the garden is strengthened. Moreover, the plan merges surroundings, history and the collection.
The enclosed garden has become the heart of the building complex and of the experience. The garden functions as a waypoint and is a connecting feature between the various buildings, but also with the museum's surroundings. New views have been created and all constituent buildings have been brought back to their original ground levels.
Entrance, chapel and cloakroom
The museum's entrance has been brought back to Agnietenstraat. This position opposite the Miffy Museum has improved the connection between these parts of the museum. In the entrance hall, the lift has been moved to the stairwell. This has created a clear intersection at which the facades of the former chapel of the Agnietenklooster, the so-called 1920s wing and the Refter manifest themselves. The new open space, 12 metres high, functions not only as a central landmark, but also as a new place for displaying art. The existing balconies here are clad in oak. The bluestone floor matches the level and materialisation of the chapel. Furthermore, an additional passage to the former chapel has been created to guide visitors to the new shop and ticket sales upon entering.
Immediately adjacent to the entrance is the former chapel of the St Agnes convent. It is the start and finish of a visit to the museum and contains the gift shop and ticket counter. As with all interventions in the museum, the context of the component to be restructured was taken into account in the design. The interior here remains austere to emphasize the chapel's beauty. The upper chapel has been set up as a freely accessible information centre.
The slender spiral staircase, which connects the lower and upper chapel, maintains the Gothic style, grasping upward towards heaven. Its technical secret, a highly massive sunken counterweight, does away with the need for a supporting construction.
In the upper chapel set up as an information centre, a Utrecht dragon is printed on an acoustically dampening back wall: a reference to the Middle Ages, when all books made by monks in Utrecht featured such a dragon.
The image of Saint Agnes in the high window plane was created by Freudenthal/Verhagen.
The aluminium ramp located in the entrance features 3,693 names of artists whose work is included in the Central Museum's collection.
Pieces from the fashion and costume collection are displayed in some showcases which are integrated into the wardrobe.
Routing and exposition spaces
Because of the labyrinthian character of the museum, visitors were often unable to find their way and got lost. Through a number of architectural interventions - such as the relocation of the entrance to its original position opposite the Miffy Museum in the Agnietenstraat and moving the lift outside of the entrance hall - a clear map point was created.
The entrance hall is the starting point for two circular main routes through the complex, providing a transparent and self-explanatory routing.
Another important measure was a new foot-bridge, made entirely of glass, which connects the Medieval wing to the exposition spaces in the Stables. This link does away with the cramped and confusing subway passing the 'Utrecht Ship'. A new viewpoint has thus been realized, which makes it possible to regain one's bearings and look ahead. At a glance, it's clear that the museum is made up of a number of interlinked buildings.
This experience is repeated in the central section of the Stables. The former gates have been opened, allowing for a prospect of the garden, Singel and the church. And it's repeated again in the new museum café next to the Nicolai churchyard. The result of both measures is that the garden now provides a recurring reference point, a guidance for straying visitors.
Furthermore, nearly all exhibition spaces have been renovated, enlarged and provided with new lighting.
Additional exhibition spaces have been created in the attic of the '1920-wing' and the refectory of the Medieval wing.
The museum café is located where the former entrance used to be, in a modern addition (1998) by architect Stephane Beel. To enhance the spacial quality of the structure, the mezzanine floor has been removed. The bottom floor has been raised to level out with the garden, enabling direct movement to the enclosed garden. PV-cells have been installed in the windows, with a dual purpose: to produce electricity and to filter the incoming light.
The lamps in Café Centraal originate from 'De Utrecht': the head office of the 'Utrecht' Life Insurance Company, constructed by architect Jan Verheul (1902). 'De Utrecht' was a prime example of Jugendstil, until it was knocked down in 1974 to make way for the 'Hoog Catharijne' complex. The demolition of 'De Utrecht' symbolizes, in the eyes of many Utrecht citizens, the trauma that was inflicted by the razing of the old city centre. The lamps are part of the museum collection. As a ' formation of spaceships', they have been suspended from the ceiling in a horizontal position.
In the former workshop, which has direct access to the Nicolaasdwarsstraat, two comfortable spaces have been realized, to host speeches, lectures, and opening events. The Garden Room is now situated in the 'outer shell' of the museum, which enables the museum (and others) to use it outside the museum's regular opening hours. The history of the wing as a military cavalry stable was a source of inspiration in redesigning it.
The prints on the table tops are fabric specimens by Benno Premsela: samples for table linen which he designed in the fifties for the 'Bijenkorf' department store. These too come from the museum collection.
The significant renovation necessitated a new garden design. Previously, the garden consisted of different parts that were not inherently inviting or accessible. The Centraal Museum and the Nikolaikerk wanted to be able to use the new garden together. This implies that the garden should be able to withstand openings, concerts, recreational museum visitors, etc.
Within the complex of the museum and the church now lies an open, green space in which planting areas and trees are positioned in such a way that they contribute to the experience of the various garden sections and the adjacent buildings. By means of three planting layers, an attempt was made to render the individuality of the museum garden tangible for visitors. The lowest layer forms the lawn. Located from plinth to plinth, this wall-to-wall green carpet connects the buildings and unifies them. In the past, when the entire area around the church served as a cemetery, this consisted of a grassy area planted with trees with an allegory of graves arranged within it the length of the church.
The middle layer now constitute of borders with permanent plants. They are connected to the buildings in different places. The upper layer are trees. They border and shape the interior space of the museum garden. Their growth habit (elegant and lovely), flower shape and colour (refined and generally white) and flower scent allow different senses to experience the garden space. Where possible, the newly planted trees contribute to what was desired for a pleasure garden or 'hortus conclusus'. They were chosen for their lovely white blossom, floral scent and fruit-bearing qualities.
Plants that actually grew in medieval monastery gardens were always in close connection with nature, often had low aesthetic value and were punctiliously tended. However, these plants are difficult to fit into a modern garden: therefore, plants with clear iconographic 'roots' and/or a habitat consistent with Christian symbolism were chosen for the planting of the current borders.