While I was making fun of the state of things over a drink – at least the Belgians – my interlocutor told me another story about an old architect. It is not about a billionaire and his construction of big business, but about a beloved national museum in the Netherlands. It is not about the Rijksmuseum, nor about Boijmans van Beuningen; both museums have been – and still are – widely discussed in the public debate. No, this story is about the Kröller-Müller Museum, the beautiful museum on the Hoge Veluwe. And you don’t hear about that at all.
The Kröller-Müller Museum is Helene Kröller-Müller’s life’s work. It has been written about Helene that she was a stubborn and stubborn woman. I read in it that she was a woman with a vision who didn’t just let herself be put aside behind a sewing project. Helene had amassed a huge art collection in her life, which she wanted to share with the whole world. This resulted in the museum on the Hoge Veluwe. A selection of Holland’s best architects have contributed to the buildings; Henry van de Velde, Wim Quist, Gerrit Rietveld, Aldo van Eyck. We have all been there many times on the white bikes and in the sculpture garden.
The museum needs an extension. There seems to be something wrong with Wim Quist’s design, so you are viewing the collection in reverse order. Helene had not thought of it that way and therefore this deficiency must be rectified and more square meters will also be needed.
How wonderful it must be for the management to be able to think of the architect for this extension. Who is suitable for this museum, in this beautiful place and in the spirit of Helene Kröller-Müller? It is a fantastic opportunity to draw on the enormous talent that the Netherlands has, which is difficult to intervene with the current bidding rules, which stipulate that you must have designed at least three museums before you can design a museum. And perhaps a talented female architect could finally be added to the illustrious list. A stubborn and stubborn woman with a vision that puts Helene’s legacy in a new light!
But there was no offer. There was no open call to challenge architects. There was no selection to find skilled architects. There was no creativity and no curiosity. The Kröller-Müller Museum chose an old architect: Tadao Ando. And thus she does the same as the billionaire in the Antwerp tower; she chooses certainty, spectacle and predictability.
I consulted the world wide web. And something wonderful happens; there is absolutely nothing to be found about Ando’s design for Kröller-Müller. How is it possible that such an important national museum does not share anything about this? A single article by Architectenweb from January 2018 reports: “There are plenty of reasons to ask Tadao Ando for the extension study, says Rob van Gemert, who advises the Kröller-Müller Museum on the extension on behalf of ToornendPartners. “Ando designs extremely careful buildings that show respect for nature and are extremely spacious. He also has extensive experience with art museums.”
There is something wrong with what is being said there. We are talking about a project manager who once again has too much to say about the selection of the architect. Respect for nature? Since when did pure concrete walls respect nature, don’t we all know that concrete is one of the most polluting building materials on earth? And why does the architect have to be someone with extensive experience with art museums? After all, art is about stubborn people; about surprising visions, about color outside the lines, the experiment, the bird of paradise, the outsider? Isn’t it the job of the art world and the government to look for other talents? Hasn’t history proven long ago that experimentation can yield so much more? Look at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek Pavilion, Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden and most recently the Kunstwerf in Groningen?
In recent months, there has been an architect selection for an architect in development. The documents can be downloaded from Tendered. This shows that the 3,000 m2 of Ando’s 2018 exploratory survey meanwhile 12,000 m2 Have become. There is no drawing or picture of Ando’s design. But the selection criteria say a lot; the constructor is selected on the basis of experience with light-faced concrete walls.
So dear Kröller-Müller Museum, here is some advice from a headstrong, stubborn woman. It’s not too late. The world no longer waits for walls of light concrete – no matter how beautiful – with the center studs in the right place. A transition is needed. A transition to buildings that blend in with nature and give something back to nature. Buildings built with materials containing CO2 absorb instead of emit. It is the Rijksmuseum’s job to set an example in this regard. It is not easy and predictable. But it is an exciting and interesting quest. And we have architects in the Netherlands who can do that. And those architects speak and write in the country’s language. They are architects who grew up with the beauty of Kröller-Müller and who learned to ride the white bikes. These are the architects you have to challenge for your beautiful museum. And I assure you, these anti-starchitects will put on more than a show. They will provide a soft, nature-friendly, inclusive, cheerful, tactile and spatial revolution in the building and museum world.
Marjolein van Eig is architect-director of BureauVanEig. Both in her work and in her monthly column, she connects contemporary issues with their historical roots. She is a guest lecturer at TU Delft and the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture.