The NAI's glass main building. Photograph: NAI.
In his design for the NAI, Jo Coenen housed the various functions of the institute in different parts of the building, all of which are in perfect harmony. The resulting ensemble blends in with its environment and establishes a relationship with the surrounding buildings.
The new architecture institute had formulated three core tasks on which the program of requirements for the building was to be based: the collection, management and accessibility of archives and collections - including the library; the study of this material and monitoring of current developments; and the dissemination of the resulting knowledge in the form of exhibitions, publications and events.
Coenen designed a separate structure for each of these tasks, adding a fourth section intended for public functions that included a cafe, bookshop and auditorium. The archive is housed in a longitudinal, slightly curved 200-metre-long building made of concrete and red and aluminium-colored corrugated sheet. This structure has been slightly lifted up in order to render it less solid, creating an arcade underneath the building. The exhibition area is a rectangular, closed box of brownish-purple brick.
> Left: Apparently disconnected building elements for different uses: the brick exhibition building alongside the unit housing the public functions. Right: The archive building and the study hall in the main building are connected by means of a glass air-lock. Photographs: Daniëlle van Ark.
The core of the building is a tall, glass unit, housing the study hall and the offices. Underneath the main building, rotated 90° relative to this unit and perpendicular to the archive building is a flat box for the public areas. Coenen composed the separate parts so that they would form a self-evident unity. In this harmonious composition of colors and materials, the reddish-brown of the brick, the transparent gleam of glass and the silvery shine of metals lends each of the units a character all its own.
One of the design's strengths is its urban siting, its embedment in the environment. The interrelationships of the building elements confirm and enhance the park's main orientations. The archive building hugs the curve of the Rochussenstraat street, forming the boundary with the Museumpark. The main building follows the orientation of the park, while the box with public functions points to the Museum Boijmans. A broad gravel path transecting the park was intended to connect the NAI with the Museum Boijmans. The building's slightly more isolated siting is due to the fact that it proved impossible to create a direct connection to the park. The Rotterdam municipal council was adamantly opposed to making this a car-free zone, so that a road now closes the building off from the park. As a result, the NAI is located adjacent to the park rather than in the park.
> Construction of the NAI adjacent to Museumpark, 1993. Photograph: Jannes Linders.
Colors and use of materials refer to adjacent buildings. The exhibition building, for example, has the same shape and proportions - a box with ground-floor windows - and the same brownish-purple color as the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. The pergola has the same color as the green copper roof and, echoing the Boijmans, the NAI also has a glass tower, the main building. The building elements' 'boxy' forms refer to the white villas along Jongkindstraat street. Rotterdam's port architecture is also alluded to, in the form of aerial walkways, railings, water, steel, the colors green and brown, and the exposed plants. The archive building's sharp point is also called "the bow".
> Left: The exhibition building with ground-floor windows. Right: The NAI's entrance can be reached by means of a walkway across the water. Photographs: Daniëlle van Ark.
> An aerial walkway connects the entrance hall with the exhibition galleries. Photograph: Maarten Laupman.
The different building elements are contrasting in their openness and closedness and each has its own character. The unit where the archives and part of the library collection are stored is closed by its very nature. This contrasts with the glass main building with its transparent look. At first glance, the exhibition galleries are closed-off, but inside they have been kept optimally spacious by, for example, opening the three floors and (originally) the use of a glass wall that affords a view to the reception area. This wall has now been closed for signage purposes.
> Filtered light shining through the fabric stretched over the exhibition areas. Photograph: Ger van der Vlugt.
Incidence of light
Coenen has paid a lot of attention to the incidence of light, alternating between direct, harsh light and indirect, softer light. Light is either reflected or filtered, by, for example, the fabric stretched over the exhibition areas. Sunlight enters the large gallery through a glass façade and is reflected from the water in the pool. Concrete walls also reflect light. The protruding roofs over recessed windows provide effective sunscreens. All these variations are intended to avoid the associations with a parking garage that could so easily be evoked by the overabundance of concrete.
Left: Light falling through the roof of the collection wing. Photograph: Daniëlle van Ark. Right: Sunlight i
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