Amsterdam continues to be the experimental city par excellence where the passing of time is synonymous with transformation of the urban fabric, and where architecture is always contemporary. The latest area for revitalisation is Amsterdam Noord, the quarter of the Dutch capital on the opposite bank of the river IJ behind the main station. A former industrial area serving the oil industry, it is now being turned into a residential quarter for one of Europe’s few capitals still enjoying growth. As the new residential blocks go up across the water on the north bank, the district has seen the development of a new cultural centre: the Eye Film Institute Netherlands, designed by the Vienna-based firm Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA). Dazzling white even on a cloudy day, the new aluminium-clad building cuts a striking figure on the waterfront. It seems to unfold, or open up – rather like an eye – before the city on the other side of the water. Overtly theatrical and emphatic, the museum building gives material form to the architects’ concept of “cinema” and the exquisitely immaterial nature of film whereby the mere projection of pure light creates images and emotions. The whole building resembles a huge stage prop, designed in signature DMAA style that over the last twenty years has brought the practice wide critical acclaim. The huge concourse accessible when the museum is open is a large square paved with warm wood. Sheltered from the river but open to the city, it is a place for meeting, sitting and relaxing but also an area for performances and film shows. It is an assertive hub that visitors cross to reach the cinema auditoriums, exhibition areas and digitalised interactive film archive of the Dutch Film Institute. Inside, a succession of spaces on various levels is connected by a smoothly flowing circulation system that determines spatial distribution without imposing any apparent hierarchy. It is an enticement to the visitor who is free to choose which circulation pathway to follow. Fitting the requirement to have several auditoriums (there are 4 theatres seating from 67 to 315) into DMAA’s iconic programme had already been envisaged in the very first preparatory sketches for the restrictedentry competition in 2005. It did lead to the creation of several “leftover” spaces though. These have been shrewdly put to use, however, by inserting a few simple functional ploys, like terraced seating, to create areas such as the children’s workshop. Minimalism is the hallmark of the interior design. Everything is black and white, tempered only by the soft tones of the waxed wood flooring that continues up the many staircases. Another key feature is glass, selected to create environments diffused with soft grey light even when the sun reflects directly off the water outside. These “perimeter-screens” have allowed the architects to achieve their aim of coupling the immateriality of the museum’s subject matter – film, brought to life in the various parts of the museum - with the grandiloquent materiality of the urban landscape outside, all by means of light. The result is laudable. Seemingly a diaphanous ethereal creation, the Eye Museum is in fact no mean structural feat. It was initially conceived by DMAA as an entirely concrete building. Economic reasons - notably the cost of ensuring the static stability of such a heavy building standing on polders at the water’s edge – meant it was turned into a completely steel structure. The whole complex is supported by just 5 concrete pillars. It’s more to the pity that such an interesting engineering achievement has been concealed both inside and out in the name of the allpervading demand for geometrical plasticity. The outer cladding of prefabricated metal panels, fashioned to comply with the shapes and structural requirements of the facades, is never subjected to stress. Joined and fastened to their frame by concealed joints, they mimic the rounded quality of cast concrete. The museum can be reached by riverboat across the IJ or by the many other means of public transport serving the Noord neighbourhood. It stands as an example of the ability to colonise voids, something, as Adriaan Gueze notes, the Dutch are masters at.
Luca Fabris, Milan Polytechnic