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Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Issue 72 April / May 2013 : Retail : Museum

ARCHITECT: Benthem Crouwel Architects LIGHTING DESIGN: Arup

Arup’s Siegrid Siderius recounts the technical challenges and innovative solutions behind the lighting of the newly reopened and fully refurbished Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – and the art of balancing the building’s celebrated day lit spaces with the needs of art conservation.

In order to maintain its key position in the art world, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has been renovated and extended with a new addition by Benthem Crouwel Architects. In September 2012 the Stedelijk Museum was reopened to the public. Arup was the structural engineer, and in addition undertook the lighting design, the aim of which was to allow the maximum possible natural light into the museum, given the constraints of art conservation.

The starting point for the restoration was to reveal the neo-Renaissance character of the original building, designed in 1895 and celebrated for its majestic staircase, grand rooms and natural light. During the renovation some non-original intermediate floors were removed, and new connections made between exhibition spaces.

Hovering superstructure
The new extension comprises a basement, a glass-enclosed ground floor, and an opaque ‘bath-tub’-shaped superstructure above, which as a result seems to ‘hover’ over the ground level, through which the original building is visible. An information centre, library, shop and restaurant with terrace occupy this transparent ground floor, which also houses the new entrance to the whole museum.

The new ‘bath-tub’ superstructure comprises two levels, a large exhibition space and auditorium on the lower level, with offices above. A large canopy cuts through the new structure at the gutter height of the original building.

Large steel trusses in the façade make it possible for the superstructure to be supported at only six points: five columns and one concrete wall, a solution that allowed the creation of a large open exhibition space. Arup and Benthem Crouwel collaborated on optimising the structure, including the location of the bearing points and the trusses.

Lighting design
The Stedelijk Museum, designed by A.W. Weismann, was always noted for its daylight, and when it closed for renovation one of the main lighting considerations was to maintain the feeling of it being flooded with daylight. However, analysis and testing showed that the existing daylight levels were in fact much too high for the health of the artworks.

Arup was commissioned to design the lighting and help resolve the potential conflict between user experience and conservation by designing both the daylight and artificial lighting installation, working closely with Benthem Crouwel to ensure that the lighting was integral to the architectural design.

Existing Building
The existing museum has two main daylight systems. On the ground floor the gallery spaces are lit from vertical windows, while the first floor galleries are mostly illuminated from above through the museum’s pitched roof, via a horizontal laylight. To determine the optimum daylighting approach, Arup studied the sun’s path and the number of hours of daylight availability in combination with the museum layout and orientation.

This revealed two key factors: for conservation of the artworks, the light entering the vertical windows needed to be reduced, but conversely visibility to the outside had to be maintained, to keep the connection with the city of Amsterdam.

To meet both requirements, the vertical windows were fitted with flat, translucent scrim, which in combination with the glazing itself ensures the correct light transmission. The scrim was architecturally designed to exactly fit the window frame, creating the impression of a continuous wall that allows soft daylight in, and gives an only slightly obscured view out, due to the heaviness of the scrim fabric.

As the Stedelijk Museum exhibits modern art there is often the requirement for spaces to be blacked out. When this is the case the scrim is replaced with an identically detailed black-out screen.

Underneath the laylight a diffusing vellum layer has been installed with integrated recessed track to allow for accent lighting with adjustable spots. Architecturally this vellum ensures a smooth white finish to the space, allowing just a subtle visibility of the original daylight construction frames beyond.

For the ground floor galleries, and those first floor galleries without a laylight, suspended lighting racks, with indirect lighting aimed upwards, cast diffuse reflected light back down into the space. Track spotlights in the underside of the rack provides accent light to the artworks.

To ensure maximum daylight without overexposure to the artworks, the daylit galleries on the first floor have a louvre system installed underneath the windows in the pitched roof. These louvres are adjusted according to the available daylight: less open during the summer and more open in winter, to ensure the appropriate levels of light exposure.

Between the louvres and the horizontal laylight an array of fluorescent fixtures is provided to achieve additional and constant light levels in the galleries. When blackout is required, the louvres can be completely closed;

As part of the design brief, a scale model of one gallery was made to test the lighting relationship between the skylight, laylight and vellum to ensure that the architectural intent would be met. During construction a full-scale mock-up of the louvre system was realized in one of the corner galleries to test the accuracy of the computer modelling and  the acceptability of the lighting. This enabled the client to see in advance what the effect would be.

Existing building main stair
The main stair in the existing building was carefully restored and is the only interior area where original 19th century architectural details have been retained. As this area contains no light-sensitive artworks the daylighting levels can be higher, so this space has its original skylight visible without a vellum screen.

In 1986 the American artist Dan Flavin (1933-1996) was commissioned by the Stedelijk to create a light art installation for the main stair. This same installation was purchased for the reopening of the museum and now provides the artificial lighting for the first floor landing, which functions as the main photo opportunity location in the museum.

New building
Daylight at ground floor level of the new building is abundant due to the full height glass façade. In the evenings, recessed ceiling fixtures ensure appropriate light levels without cluttering the space. In the shop recessed track with spots light the merchandise.

From the ground floor entrance, a main stair takes visitors down to the basement level, which contains the most extensive clear-span exhibition gallery in the Netherlands. By the use of temporary walls, this single large space can be subdivided to suit specific exhibition requirements.

Its location below ground level means that this gallery has no daylight access, which makes it ideal both for video installations and light-sensitive artworks. The lighting design here is a recessed track system, which allows for flexible mounting of spot and flood lights.

The other galleries in the new building are on the first floor within the ‘bath-tub’. To allow visitors to move between exhibitions without the distractions of new visitors entering and the various ground floor facilities, an enclosed escalator runs directly between the lower level and the first floor, skipping the ground floor. This escalator tube has already proved to be a prime photo opportunity feature of the refurbished museum, the enclosed space with its bright lighting transporting visitors between ‘artistic worlds’ is enhanced by the audio art incorporated within it.

The museum offices are located above the first floor gallery in the new building and to allow some daylight into the first floor gallery space, two linear slots of ‘daylight catchers’ were introduced along the length of the space either side of the offices. Due to the building’s orientation and the limited size of these apertures, daylight does not light the space uniformly here, but adds a dynamic element to the gallery. As with the skylights in the original building, these can also be blacked out if the exhibition requires this. The artificial lighting is by recessed track, similar to the solution in the lower level.

The architects deliberately created a very strong visual contrast between the exteriors of the new and the existing buildings, but in their interiors new and old are seamlessly connected, allowing visitors to experience the museum as one continuous structure. The lighting does the same through the use of similar solutions, with just subtle differences to match the changing architectural context.

In the first three months following its opening, the refurbished Stedelijk Museum welcomed over 300,000 visitors, well in excess of the estimated quarter-million. The result shows that the new museum has been embraced by the audience.


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