In Amsterdam, the reconfigured Rijksmuseum won’t open until the spring, and the Van Gogh Museum is closed for renovations (with paintings transferred to the Hermitage Amsterdam). After you’ve visited the newly-expanded Stedelijk Museum (which appears attachéd to a huge bathtub), the film museum awaits you.
Not that it’s a surprise on the horizon. The Eye Film Institute Netherlands, designed by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA) of Vienna on land in North Amsterdam across the harbor from the central station, has been one of the most watched construction sites in Holland.
You can’t escape the film allusions here, a blend of the oblique and the obvious. Closely Watched Trains? Closely watched because customers waiting on the railroad platform could not miss it if they looked at anything but trains, and toward the water. In a place where shellfish were probably extirpated long ago, the structure rose like a many sided diagonal. If this architecture was meant to be themed into a form immediately suggesting cinema, it left viewers guessing.
But given an empty space, or a few minutes on a rail platform, cinephiles can find plenty of allusions, not least of which as the Sydney Opera House, or a Frank Gehry fish shape slanting upward.
On the waterfront? Amsterdam Noord, a district growing denser with residences each year, is accessed by a free ferry carrying the tall blond Dutch and their bicycles – and visitors who’ve been told of one of Amsterdam’s best destinations (and bargains). Even the Staten Island Ferry costs something in New York, and many of us would say that it doesn’t go anywhere.
Turning left from the ferry landing, you look back to central Amsterdam. In Dutch architecture, as in Dutch painting, the Dutch have used the sky and the water to transcend the scarcity of space. Here it works as you approach the museum, heading to an overhang under the rising diagonal, where films can screen outdoors.
If there are two impulses that drive the look of the museum — and there are many more – one is the passage of light. Here light begins with the rise and fall of natural light, but the harbor is also a tangle of urban, nautical and industrial illumination – the proverbial ideal location. Add projected light to the mix, inside and out, and architecture meets cinema. Add a grandly spacious horizontal atrium, with a deceptive volume of height – and you have a space to accommodate the infinitely expanding universe of talk about film. I experienced a part of the feeling at IDFA in November.
You could make the argument that the Eye Museum’s Amsterdam North location, accessed by boat, might be cinema’s desert island, or its penal colony, if there weren’t so many people already living there. The whale of a building isn’t a gift of an outer sanctum for cinema. It’s intended more as a big tent, as director Sandra van Hamer (familiar to many from the Rotterdam Film Festival) has stated.
In the exhibition spaces at the top of the amphitheater-step rise of the museum’s grand hall, a multi-screen installations of work by Isaac Julien, Fiona Tan and Yang Fudong reflect a taste for what’s happening now and affirm the everything’s-a-screen argument that the design of the museum is making. Film history – Kubrick, Oskar Fischinger — is also getting its due, as it’s already getting on the screen.
The architects, Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, can give you a tour of the structure and its design genesis.
As with any museum building, the architecture itself is the exhibition for the first year or so. Audiences tend to slack off, and the museum rises and falls on its program. Somehow I don’t expect the Eye Museum to lack for a public.
In the spring, Delugan answered some questions that I sent to the firm in Vienna.
How did you derive the shape of the building? How does this relate formally to cinema?
Film is an illusion created by the scenic coordination of light, space, and movement, which becomes real through projection. In architecture, the interplay between these parameters defines the intensity and effectiveness of the individual spatial perception significantly. They are understood to be integrative components of spatial enactment, their effect being projected through sequences of human motion and unfolded in multilayered ways.
Were any existing cinema museums an inspiration for you?
We certainly drew inspiration from the 1930s, since the Art Déco style has generated wonderful cinemas of high architectural quality. However, this era is over and the 1960s are no longer defining. Of course, we are indirectly influenced by tradition but our architecture is not based on function and on the question what the building should represent. Since the 1980s, architecturally banal American style cinema concepts became dominant in Europe. The visitor to these multiple Cinema Centres is purely viewed as a consumer and he is catered for according to the same template everywhere: he gets his ticket, is seated into the black box and is released onto the street through a side exit. We regard this reduction to a consumer role as totally wrong and extremely depressing. From this derives our idea for tomorrow’s cinema to lay a marker in architectural form and content, but to go a significant step further. With EYE we wanted to develop a new type of cinema, an in-between space that generates surplus value which surpasses the normal visit to the cinema.
What is the architectural context for your building? does it relate to anything else in Amsterdam?
Our work is determined by as many multivalent relationships between architecture and its contextual environment as possible, incorporating the context of the building and the physical presence of its users. Independently from location, scale and function, the urban context represents an essential parameter of our approach. Striking landmarks such as the Overhoeks Tower or the superior development plan of the Amsterdam Noord certainly had influence on our design idea. Existing city structures and historic tendencies are always sources of inspiration, for instance the outstanding architectural movement in Holland during the 1920s and 1930s. We hope that EYE will align to the city’s architectural standard.
Is it intended, like cinema, to be appreciated in the dark?
The interplay between light and reflection changes the external appearance of EYE changes permanently in the course of day and night. Nevertheless, the building is not to be seen as metaphor for film. Besides function, its focus is set on the urban context, functional correlations and on its perception by visitors, users and the socio-cultural life in Amsterdam.
Has your firm designed other museums? What was the special challenge here?
The Porsche Museum in Stuttgart was one of our major cultural project, completed in 2009. We are committed to developing the principle of intensification of present functional parameters, along with ways to make it physiologically tangible. The Porsche Museum features specific conditions which the brand conveys both spatially and sensually to visitors. Drive and speed, statics and logjams can be experienced both in the building’s configuration as well as through the spatial medium.