Design in shape (The Netherlands)

It is this playful game of effective architectural interventions, open and closed spaces, varying levels, and colour accents that gives shape to the ambitions of clients and users for an ‘unbounded museum’. The intended subjective meaning here is that it is not a museum in the classic sense, but a combination of visitor centre, exhibition space, and laboratory, which more or less loosely merge with each other. The strong sight lines, both horizontal and vertical, enable this project to make an uncommonly strong final play: the function of public space, residence, and passage area. Coming from the village, the closed, square volume of the (existing) Continium makes place for a diverse passage space where Beam provides shelter, Sphere creates surprise, and Cube lays down an extra spatial accent. From the station side, the sunken square, executed in minestone red concrete, is both a playground and a place to linger. While waiting for the train, the museum’s restaurant can serve as a coffee bar. Here, ‘boundless’ means that the sunken entrance is made of the same minestone red concrete. Inside and outside run almost seamlessly into one another.

As well done as this inside/outside public space might be, the museum and laboratory spaces are less convincing. It could be due to the experimental nature of the museum’s concept. The exhibition, workshop, and laboratory spaces seem to have been localized in several locations in the building at the last moment, whereby the rooms downstairs are slightly too low for an exhibition space and the laboratory rooms receive very little natural light. This may also have to do with the rapid construction time. From design to realization lasted three years, and the construction duration was exactly thirteen months: Continium wished to be closed to the public for as little time as possible.

‘Between perfect architecture and rapid realization exists a field of tension,’ says architect Oana Rades diplomatically. ‘The unfinished structure has become the finishing, and we especially focused on the leisure areas. There, the link between inside and outside can be most seen and felt. We have given so much to each other, thanks to the great trust Mertens had in us. They won a Design & Construct tender, so it then becomes a matter of whether the builder and the designer have the same ideas and ambitions, but that has gone quite well here.’

Partnerships with institutions such as the Design Museum in London, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum of Design in New York, and the Red Dot Award, plus exchange training projects in Aachen, Essen, and Eindhoven, could make this place a very interesting meeting point, where ‘design for human needs’ is central. Perhaps the gallery halls will gradually be ‘embedded’ with the rest of the museum: unbounded, exciting, and versatile.