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Redesign of 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'.

The analysis led to a vision which served as a starting point for the redesign of the museum. The design and realisation of the restructuring was carried out by Soda+, a collaboration of Jorrit Noyons and Ronald Buïel of Soda and the architects Gabri Klarenbeek and Hagen Zeisberg.

 

Design

The Centraal Museum is housed in a cluster of diverse constituent buildings. They are diverse in their original use: a former Medieval convent, a chapel, cavalry stables, a children's home and a museum. Diverse too in their architectural style and era, ranging from 1420 to 1998. As a whole, they reveal the history of Utrecht from the Middle Age 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 has been 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.

 

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.

 

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, near 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.

 

Café Centraal

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 museum café (Café Centraal) 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. They have been suspended from the ceiling in a horizontal position.

 

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.

Garden Room

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.

Garden 

The comprehensive restructuring necessitated a new plan for the garden. Formerly it was made up out of different parts which were not by themselves very inviting or accessible. The Centraal Museum and the Nicolai Church wanted to make joint use of the garden. This means it has to be able to withstand opening crowds, concerts, reposing museum visitors etc. Within the joint museum/church complex there now lies an open, green space, whose borders and trees have been positioned to enhance the enjoyment of the various garden areas and the adjacent buildings.