Good design takes a soaking

by Hamish Keith / 14 February, 2013
An addition to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk museum that seems grossly out of time and place.
Nutty: Amsterdam’s Stedelijk museum’s bath-like extension. Photo/Jannes Linders


In the 17th century, the Dutch maintained a commercial empire that stretched around the globe. Their warships patrolled as far away as Japan; they even called in on us briefly in 1642. Their ships were among the world’s best designed. As painters of the sea, they were unexcelled.

The Netherlands is on average 11m above sea level and more than 60% of its 16 million-plus inhabitants live below that. Clearly, they would have an attraction to water. Even so, it seems hard to explain why they would design an extension to the pioneering Stedelijk contemporary art museum in the shape of a bathtub.

But they have. Towering above Amsterdam’s Museumsplein and plugged into the side of the elegant 1895 brick Neo-Renaissance pile of the original museum is a giant white bathtub. No fanciful allusions here – its architect, Mels Crouwel, was the first to pin that name on it. All buildings, he explained in a video interview, have nicknames – “this is the bathtub”. It stands on four legs, its rim overhanging the square. Visitors go in and out roughly where the water would run down the plug hole.

The sad thing about this latest excess of architectural nuttiness let loose on an art museum is that, from the video, the interior works perfectly. Galleries move seamlessly between the old building and the new. The post-World War II Stedelijk set the benchmark for contemporary, anonymous white-box galleries, with interiors in which the art has the first and last word. In the 60s, the design of the Stedelijk was what all modernising galleries aspired to – Auckland Art Gallery included. Its elegant modernist catalogues were models for ours, which is a bit of an irony since the father of the bathtub’s architect used to design them.

I suppose Dutch gallery-goers can be thankful that once they are in the bath they can forget the structure. In that compact and elegant city, though, in normal life it will be impossible to ignore. To my eye, it seems a massive punch in the collective face of a city generally careful to an extreme about the impact urban design will have on what is in many ways a fragile metropolis. This addition seems grossly out of time and place.

When climate change emerged as a political issue a decade or so ago, the then Dutch Prime Minister was asked what his people would do if rising sea levels drowned his country. “Move to Germany,” he answered. Perhaps the Stedelijk has been designed as some kind of cultural ark.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more
Climate change: New study finds worst case scenario might not be as bad
85994 2018-01-18 08:27:48Z Environment

Climate change: New study finds worst case scenari…

by Charlie Dreaver

Global warming's worst case scenario may not be as bad as previously thought, a new climate change study says.

Read more
The science of sibling rivalries
85949 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Science

The science of sibling rivalries

by Sally Blundell

Who was the favourite? Who got the most? Sibling relationships set up patterns that last a lifetime.

Read more
The Post – movie review
85900 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Movies

The Post – movie review

by Peter Calder

Meryl Streep shines in Steven Spielberg’s thrilling Nixon-era newspaper drama.

Read more