How Hard Is It to Redesign a Museum? Riveting Behind-the-Scenes Tales.

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Dec. 12 2013 3:00 PM

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Rijksmuseum's Renovation From Hell

131212_EYE_2
Oeke Hoogendijk’s documentary The New Rijksmuseum chronicles the monumental 10-year restoration of Amsterdam's Dutch national museum of history and the arts, built in 1895 by architect Pierre Cuypers.

Courtesy of Pieter van Huijstee/Column Film

In April the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam's Dutch national museum of history and the arts, reopened to much fanfare after a 10-year, nearly $500 million renovation. It has since had between 7,000 and 10,000 visitors daily and received its landmark 2 millionth visitor since the reopening earlier this month.

When the museum, built in 1895 by architect Pierre Cuypers, closed in 2004, it was expected to reopen four years later. Plans included tearing down walls from previous renovations and restoring decorative details and adding 21st-century upgrades like climate control and new public spaces, a cleverly redesigned entrance by Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz, new interiors by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, known for his work on the Louvre, and a freshly restored and reorganized collection including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer.

131212_EYE_4
The renovation included restoring paintings that hadn't been cleaned since the 19th century.

Courtesy of Pieter van Huijstee/Column Film

But like all renovations, this one cost more and took longer than expected. A new documentary tracking that epic undertaking, The New Rijksmuseum directed by Oeke Hoogendijk, has its world premiere Dec. 18 at Film Forum in New York City. The documentary is a monumental undertaking itself, clocking in at nearly four hours. What makes it surprisingly compelling for anyone interested in design is how unapologetically it delves into the patience-testing setbacks and bureaucratic minutiae of what happens behind the scaffolding.

Advertisement

It’s painful to watch as the exciting design solution that won the Spanish architects the bid is rejected when the Dutch Cyclists Union argues that it reduces access for bicyclists. It’s a stark reminder of the futility of design by committee when the French architect who is brought in for his celebrated work on the Louvre finds his choice of wall color summarily rejected by the new museum director in an I’m-the-Decider moment.

131212_EYE_3
Bureaucratic delays, budget clashes, design changes, and more kept the Rijksmuseum closed for a decade; it reopened in the spring.

Courtesy of Pieter van Huijstee/Column Film

Following the story for a decade allowed the filmmaker to reveal that behind every bureaucratic nightmares involving building permits and competing interests is a human-scaled drama. Over the course of four hours Hoogendijk captures many candid moments from the museum director, from the architects, from the director of collections, and perhaps most memorably from the emotionally invested head builder, who by turns refers to the building as his child, his wife, and his home, when he is not putting up barriers to keep out the bike protesters or shooting pigeons in the museum attic.

The film ends just at the moment when the museum is poised to reopen, meaning that it is more about process than the payoff, but it is fascinating to see the structure itself emptied and rebuilt before being put back together again, to watch major players come and go, to recognize the heroic and passionate efforts of individuals to fight for their causes despite disappointments and changing winds.

It’s both an examination of a very particular undertaking with a vivid cast of characters and a universal object lesson in how every ambitious, large-scale design project––particularly one funded with public money––is a battle between innovation and the status quo, a test of wills and a study in compromise. Watching this film should be required viewing for aspiring architects and designers for all it reveals about the realities of putting ideas into practice.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 4:03 PM You’re Doing It Wrong: Puttanesca Sauce
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.