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FENIX Museum of Migration to Open in Rotterdam in 2025

by Ron Bernthal

Jul 8, 2024

© MAD Architects


Leave it to the design-friendly Netherlands to restore a 172,000-square-foot building dating from 1923 and once part of the largest warehouse in the world into a radically designed museum called FENIX Museum of Migration Rotterdam.

Located on the south bank of the river Maas in Rotterdam’s historic port district, the former warehouse served as an important building for storage and shipping for Holland America Line, a Dutch cargo and passenger company. Holland America Line facilitated the ocean journeys of millions of migrants in the 19th and 20th centuries who arrived at and departed from the port district docks.


© MAD Architects

The new structure, which will open in early 2025, is designed by Ma Yansong of MAD Architects, an internationally acclaimed, Beijing-based architecture firm. Visitors to the museum will immediately see its architectural masterpiece, called the Tornado, a dynamic structure evocative of rising air that climbs from the ground floor and flows up and out of the rooftop onto a platform above the city, designed to represent an uplifting symbol for the journeys experienced by migrants globally. For visitors, climbing the stairs of the Tornado will be an experience offering a new perspective of Rotterdam, with dramatic views across the River Maas.

Inside the building will be a series of vast gallery spaces over two floors, housing the museum’s art and historical collection as well as a series of commissions by emerging artists from across the world, telling stories of migration from their perspective. These include Paris-based Beya Gille Gacha, Rotterdam-based artist Efrat Zehavi, Korean artist Chae Eun Rhee, artist Raquel Van Haver and U.S.-based Hugo McCloud. More than 200 acquisitions have already been made that examine the theme of migration through the lens of contemporary art.

The ground floor will house three major projects. The Maze will be a monumental artwork made up of 2,000 suitcases donated by individuals from around the world, an installation in which visitors can discover the stories of the suitcases’ previous owners.


© MAD Architects

The second major project, inspired by Edward Steichen’s Family of Man, is called Family of Migrants and will occupy another of the huge ground-floor galleries, made up of hundreds of documentary images and portraits touching on the themes raised by human movement, family love, the danger of the voyage and saying goodbye. Among them will be iconic images by more than 200 famous photographers from more than 60 countries.

Plein, the 24,500-square-foot ground-floor space, will be the third big project. This large, flexible space for events and performances will host a constantly changing program of activity curated by Rotterdam’s communities. Every day and every hour in Plein will be different. For example, during Chinese New Year, Plein will celebrate the food and culture of a community who created Europe’s first Chinatown.

“FENIX’s story is Rotterdam’s. And its story is of the world. One of arrivals and departures, and of constant change to face the future,” said Anne Kremers, director, FENIX. “In its landmark new home, FENIX will inspire a profound new curiosity about the world we live in.”

“When MAD Architects were asked to work on FENIX, we knew we had to create a dialogue with the existing building and itssurroundings,  and with a past containing so many stories of migration, memories, and uncertainty,” said Ma Yansong, founder and principal partner, MAD Architects. “In designing a new structure, we had to show this dialogue between the future and the past, and so continue the story of the building. The Tornado is all about the future, but it’s rooted in the past. For me, it’s a metaphor for the journeys of migrants who passed through this building.”


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