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Bikes at the Rijks

Meanwhile in Holland … the local news has been less about the exhilarating impact the reopening of the Rijks Museum will have on the city and art-lovers worldwide, and more about, well, bikes.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 04-04-2013

The Dutch National Museum, home of Rembrandts "Nightwatch", will reopen on April 13 after a renovation that took ten years.  The upgrade fuses contemporary splendour with the old, 19th century grace.  

For all the excitement this has created amongst art lovers (here and here), the major political battle in Amsterdam is about a cycling path that used to run straight through the building.

For some Dutchmen the Rijksmuseum, or simply the Rijks as it’s called locally, should be mentioned in one breath with major cultural institutions like the Louvre. A temple of art with 17th century masterpieces by Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. The Rijks also has an eye for the modern as shown by the “Mondriaan dress” (1966) by Yves Saint Laurent, inspired by the modern Dutch painter, and "Grandfather Clock" by Maarten Baas, a more recent acquisition.

But militant cyclists in Amsterdam don’t seem to care about the hundreds of thousands of international visitors who will arrive here to roam the premises.  As any tourist well knows, dare to take a step inches out of line and you’ll be lambasted with screeches of abuse and madly ringing bike bells from speeding cyclists.  It’s scary and confusing.

The issue is a tunnel running straight through the building and designated a public road since the construction of the museum in the late 19th century. The tunnel has always been open to pedestrians and cyclists alike, connecting the canals in the city centre with the bourgeois south.  

Two consecutive directors of the Rijks have fought hard for closure of the cycling tunnel.  They claim that the complete redesign of the entrance to the building by Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz calls for it. In the design, two courtyards left and right of the tunnel were opened up, deepened and accessed via stairs leading down in the centre of the tunnel to create a large open space welcoming visitors – in a way reminiscent of the Louvre’s own courtyard.

“Instead of looking at this museum as something we can be proud off, the debate is reduced to ‘a bicycle’,” said previous director Ronald de Leeuw in a documentary broadcast last week on public television NTR.  “This shows how we, as a small country, tend to make ourselves even tinier.” Ronald de Leeuw can be credited with initiating the renovation.

“This is provincialism,” De Leeuw continued.  “I’m being called arrogant, but if the debate is reduced to a bicycle lane, while we’re spending hundreds of millions on this museum, then I do not think people realise what we’re actually doing here.”

Local politicians, however, disagree. A left-wing majority in the city council decided the passageway will remain a bicycle lane.

It is a sign of “narrow mindedness”, current director Wim Pijbes told local television.

Design.nl will look more closely at the interior architecture of the reopened Rijks Museum and other design-related issues next week.


Images:

Main: The Museum wanted to turn the central lane of the tunnel into a pedestrian area with stairs leading down to the entrance. Cyclists would have had to move to the lanes left and right. The city decided against this and cyclists will stil pass through the central lane. image by Skipintro
.

Side: The renovated tunnel waiting for visitors. The architects envisioned stairways
right in the middle leading down to a new entrance one level lower where the two courtyards left and right would be connected. Instead visitors will have to enter left or right into one of the two courtyards (second picture) which are still connected underneath the tunnel. Images by architects Cruz y Ortiz

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