A little more a year ago, Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, designed by architectural firm MVRDV, opened to the public in Rotterdam. At Depot, everything revolves around the interaction between the visitors and more than 151,000 works stored in various areas of the unique building.
As part of the unique museum experience, visitors can, alone or in groups, see the artwork by taking guided tours through the air-conditioned storage spaces or enjoy the rooftop forest and restaurant Renilde, both 115 feet above the ground. The opening of the arts center in late 2021 marked the conclusion of almost a decade of work; MVRDV won the design competition in 2013, with construction starting in 2017. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands performed the opening ceremony.
The Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is the first publicly accessible art storage facility in the world. The idea was to design a building as inviting as possible, where many different target groups would feel welcome. It was emphatically decided not to become a typical museum, where only a small percentage of the museum’s collection can be exhibited, but instead an engine room revealing the world behind the storage and maintenance of a dazzling number of art and design works. Visiting the Depot offers a completely new experience: The art is arranged according to size and climate requirements, not art history periods. Old and contemporary works are juxtaposed, inviting new connections to be made.
The MVRDV design team, led by architect and urban planner Winy Maas, opted for a round, sturdy, functional building that does not turn its back on its neighbors, instead establishing a new relationship with both Museumpark (where the Depot is located) and the city of Rotterdam. The ambition was to create a building that seems to disappear into its surroundings, while at the same time serving as a safe house for the collection, worth billions.
The Depot owes its shape to the desire to give the building a relatively small footprint. As a result, the building takes up less space in the park, but curves upwards with a 32-foot overhang to accommodate the entire interior spaces, including storage spaces, restoration studios, catering facilities, and film and presentation rooms. The building has five climate zones created to reflect the most delicate art, from prints and paintings to photography.
The mirrored façade, consisting of 21,000 square feet of glass divided into 1,664 panels, ensures the building visually blends into its surroundings. The large entrance doors merge into the façade and only become visible during opening hours, when the façade opens like a gadget out of a James Bond film.
Every day, depending on weather conditions, Depot looks different, like a living painting. Inside, the most eye-catching part of the building is the atrium, with its crisscrossing staircases and windows into the storage spaces giving the impression of a central observation tower with a view of the art from all sides. Thirteen large display cases ensure the visitor encounters a collage of collection pieces as soon as they enter the building.
For the interior, there was close cooperation with several design professionals: John Körmeling designed the entrance and Marieke van Diemen designed the display cases. Outside, Pipilotti Rist designed a light installation to make Depot come alive at night.
Depot is also an experiment in adding nature to the city. This takes place in the form of the 115-foot-high rooftop forest, awarded Best Dutch Rooftop Award in 2020, two years before building even opened. The 75 birches, 20 pines and grasses placed on the roof help retain water, promote biodiversity and reduce heat stress in the city. The trees for the project were prepared for three years in a nursery before moving into their new home. The roots are interconnected and, because the windbreak and cross-shaped restaurant on the roof protect the birches from strong winds, they can withstand stormy weather even at a height of 115 feet. A special water system ensures the trees are never dry.
“I think it’s great to see how the Depot has been embraced by Rotterdammers even before it opened,” said Winy Maas, founding partner, MVRDV. “The Depot is a building that makes many people happy, even skaters have their own place outside. As an architect, I believe that visitors are really enjoying the interior, the rooftop forest, and the experience of being in direct contact with art without the mediation of a curator. Our ambition was to give the Museumpark a new dimension.”
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is a collaboration between Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the municipality of Rotterdam and De Verre Bergen Foundation. Visitors must reserve timed tickets online. Prices range from free to about $22.
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