The entrance has been moved to Agnietenstraat. Centraal Museum now has a new café, a new event hall, a new shop and a new garden. But it is still the same museum – only better. Now that the museum is about to reopen, managing director Marco Grob, responsible for the renovation, reflects on a hectic period.
Finally, the day has come. We proudly swing open the doors to a renewed museum, after a transition period of more than three years. The large-scale renovation of Centraal Museum has been completed. Public facilities have been modified and relocated, exhibition space has been expanded, and the routing through the museum is clearer than ever before. Old annoyances have been swept away, and a new and fresh museum has emerged. Again: we are proud of the result.
Old and new
With regard to Centraal Museum, any talk of ‘old’ and ‘new’ is rather ambiguous. How do you apply these terms to a building – or better said, a building complex – which dates back to 1420 and has served various purposes since then, and has been modified several times? Some parts or features of the building were demolished, while other parts and features were added. This long and varied history in any case resulted in a rather marvellous labyrinthine setting. Although some visitors felt it was a touch too challenging, and left the building wondering whether they had actually seen everything.
That’s why the building required some restructuring. Today’s museum audience has different wishes and expectations with respect to service and ambiance, which the ‘old’ museum could not fulfil. The fact that the reception desk no longer hears the once almost daily visitor’s complaint about a lack of orientation and overview shows that we did well to embark on this fairly drastic redevelopment process!
It was an intensive period of analysing, lobbying and talking, making plans, recruiting funds and drawing and designing. The Arnhem/Rotterdam-based agency Soda+ was responsible for the renovation. From the start, the designers and architects played an important role in the process and the implementation. They steadfastly argued to maintain and emphasise the monumentality of the setting and the existing architecture. ‘Let the museum speak for itself’, was the motto. It was in that spirit that we set to work.
Titled ‘Centraal Museum steps out’, the 2011 bid book marked the start of the process for the outside world. But this was the result of a foregoing process that included a thorough analysis of the museum’s strengths and weaknesses. Moving around a few routing signs would not do the trick – this much was clear from the outset. Public facilities such as the café, museum shop and reception desk were a bit too well concealed from view. And there was were no facilities to host special events or commercial parties outside opening hours, without incurring major costs and concerns for security. All in all, there was quite a list of annoyances to tackle.
The bid book, released in the spring of 2011, presented our goals and ambitions in text and images. Now we had something to wave in the air and to back us up when we called on the municipal authorities, on funds and on neighbourhood residents.
Relocating the entrance to Agnietenstraat was essential to improving the visibility of Centraal Museum. This would moreover make the layout of the building more transparent and reinforce the connection with the Miffy museum, just across the road. Improving facilities such as the museum shop, the entrance, the café and the auditorium, and creating a multifunctional hall for events, also carried a lot of weight. And – rather importantly for a museum – the amount of floor space available for exhibitions needed to be increased. Finally, the limited accessibility of the museum outside regular opening hours was an issue. It had to become easier and cheaper to open at least part of the museum at other hours, also to enable a more commercial exploitation of the facilities.
Our plans soon drew both financial and policy support, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Public and private funds were willing to contribute, and the municipal government responded with much enthusiasm. Talks with colleagues and neighbourhood residents led to the establishment of the local initiative group Zuidelijk Museumkwartier. Such joint efforts resulted in a financial contribution from the municipality’s Economic Investment Fund. In the meantime, street works have begun to spruce up the nearby Twijnstraat, Nicolaaskerkhof and Agnietenstraat, since the overall attractiveness and accessibility of public space were also due for some improvement.
All of our wishes have now been fulfilled, and more than that. An extra project application to the BankGiro Lottery was granted, so that Miffy’s home could be thoroughly renovated in time for her sixtieth birthday. The new Miffy Museum opened a few months ago and has been a runaway success since day 1.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the glass passageway: a wonderful feat of engineering that traverses the garden to connect the refectory with the stables. It proved the perfect solution to creating a new routing and is a fantastic addition to the museum, architectonically.
Not surprisingly, our extensive deliberations on the physical appearance, arrangement and ambiance of the building raised various questions about the identity of Centraal Museum. What kind of museum are we, and what do we wish to be?
In that respect, too, renewal has taken place. It was time for a fundamental reorientation. This has resulted, for example, in Miffy Museum and Centraal Museum going their own way. The children’s museum and the art & history museum are now two separate museums.
A further consequence in terms of content is an explicit focus on what we have come to term ‘the world of Utrecht’. The new (semi) permanent exhibition in the 1920 wing of the building will place the city of Utrecht and the Centraal Museum collection in an international context. City history, fashion and applied arts, sixteenth-century and contemporary painters: all disciplines intermingle in a stimulating presentation.
The second floor is devoted partly to contemporary Utrecht art and partly to experimental art in any genre. The scope remains wide, crisscrossing the centuries and art history, but always with attention for the link to Utrecht.
In this way we hope to offer our visitors a pleasant and inspiring visit to our museum. The new attractive museum café, Café Centraal (located where the entrance used to be), will certainly contribute to this. It has a pleasant terrace and offers access to the beautiful courtyard garden, which has also been thoroughly renewed.
Co-director Edwin Jacobs joins me in this cordial invitation to come see it all for yourself. We look forward to the future with much confidence. Centraal Museum has re-established itself.