“Many museums are very preachy,” says Winy Maas, principal architect and co-founder of MVRDV. “That is what we tried to avoid.”

The studio’s latest project is the world's first publicly accessible art storage facility for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. From the outside it’s like a disco ball adorning the museum park, a reflective sort of visual camouflage, an Instagrammable mirror-selfie-hotspot. The idea of art and mirrors performing at least in part similar functions isn’t lost.

Its interior, however, is not quite as merry as its exterior. The contrast is big.

Photo. ©Fred Ernst

“I know many people like the functional honesty of this building, which is much needed these days and [I do think] makes people happier,” Maas says.

The central atrium is a panopticon giving visitors an overview of all possible routes. The staircase, 50 windows, walkways, and transparent elevators are both fully visible and accessible. It’s all a far cry from the usual windowless storage facility that feels like it is made to get rid of people than invite communal gatherings.

“The Museumplein is a party park in Rotterdam,” says Maas.  “It’s supposed to be a place for open-air cinema and parades. The Depot is a jewel box, but we did it in a conceptual way, not with a lot of decoration or extra storytelling for the interior. It is neutralised by the architecture somehow.”

Photo. ©Fred Ernst

Maas even goes so far as to describe the internal space of the project as dry, or “it is what it is”. The exterior sits with and reflects the park and the city while the interior sits with its principal function of examining art. It’s neutral, never fake or Disneyish.

Equally it results in a beautiful built-in intimacy between the art and the audience – an awkward conflict with the distancing requirements of 2020. But the neutrality allows for a direct appreciation of the collection, triggering a closer experience.

“You will see antiques, surprises, things you would always like to see,” says Maas. “And the building allows you to witness the needed care and love for them, how they are treated. It also gives you a warmth that makes us aware of the necessity of maintaining things.”

Only the budget didn’t allow for a fully transparent interior to be realized. The budget comprised a small amount of money from the government, a generous €20 million by philanthropist Martijn van der Vorm as well as material donations specifically of the mirrored facades.

“Having glass everywhere, with more visibility of the artwork, is a very utopian suggestion,” says Maas. “When there is a piece of art followed by another one, with the public in-between, there is an effect. I call it a 'rimpling effect’.”

Maas’ ideal is for visitors to be able to concurrently juxtapose different work from different perspectives. And he’s nailed the blueprint for possible future depots – budgets permitting.

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