A museum that has Benthem Crouwel architects design an extension runs a high risk of getting a ‘floating’ new building. For example, the extension of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which was completed in 2012, became a gigantic floating ‘bathtub’. And the ninety-metre-long new building of the Museum Arnhem, which will reopen to the public on Friday after a four-year renovation to a design by Benthem Crouwel, has been given a spectacular overhang of fifteen metres. A year and a half ago, the steel construction of the cliffhanger, as the cantilevered part of the new building is already called, was repaired with the help of a bridge building technology pushed slowly over the edge of the Rehberg on which Museum Arnhem is located. Like a spaceship about to depart for the Rhine, the ‘cliffhanger’ now hovers over the trees that dot the steep slope of the mountain.
One of the criticisms of Benthem Crouwel’s museum expansion in Amsterdam was that, despite its bizarre shape, the bathtub is a boring building that, like a distribution box in a business park, can be seen and understood at a glance. This is mainly because the completely closed, even white and smooth facades are meaningless. But although the extension of Museum Arnhem is essentially a simple modernist box that rests on a substructure partly built into the moraine, Saartje van der Made and Joost Vos van Benthem Crouwel architects have this time made the facades tingle and twinkle. The spaceship with exhibition areas is covered with 82,000 ceramic tiles that not only have a different pattern, but also differ in color. The facades of the cantilever on the Rhine side have been given light blue and almost white tiles, a reference to the sliding glacier that propelled the Rehberg uphill 150,000 years ago. But at the entrance of the museum on Utrechtseweg, the museum beam has been transformed into an earthy building that is firmly anchored in the moraine thanks to tiles in brown-beige tones.
Worn museum complex
Benthem Crouwel have done a wonderful job not only with the new construction, but also with the renovation of the old, worn-out museum complex. The heart of the renovated Museum Arnhem is now the hexagonal domed building, where the café and the (modest) museum shop, which are also accessible to non-museum visitors, designed by the Modijefsky studio, are located. Over the years, this eclectic building from 1873, which was the home of the Heerensociëtiet until 1920, was filled with partitions and the door and windows were bricked up. But now the domed building has been rigorously broken open and the museum heart, with an old-fashioned terrazzo floor and the slender cast-iron columns visible again, has regained its nineteenth-century allure.
The two old, renovated wings are accessible from the dome building. Here are classical-modern museum rooms with parquet floors, some of which have skylights and others are ‘black boxes’, suitable for video and media art. One of the arms on either side of the dome building opens into the spaceship where the first room, with concrete floor, has a huge panoramic window, overlooking the forest on the moraine. Just like in the cafe, visitors can go in two directions here. The left wing ends with a large corner window that offers a view of the city, the Rhine and the Betuwe in the distance.
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The newly furnished sculpture garden is also accessible to non-museum visitors from the dome café. Due to the demolition of the old, makeshift restaurant pavilion, the garden, designed by Karres and Brands, is no longer divided in two. The beautiful red beech has remained and is now surrounded by a lawn with sculptures by artists such as Rebecca Horn and Maria Roosen. Special attraction is still the Underground Fountain by Thom Puckey in a single bunker from the Second World War. The winding garden path also leads past a concrete slab from which a staircase leads to the viewing point on the open first floor of the spaceship. The staircase also serves as a grandstand for the performances that will be given on the concrete stage.
This way the spaceship does not lie closed Fremkorper on top of the moraine, but it forms a wonderfully coherent whole with the garden and the old dome building in the most beautiful place in Arnhem.