31.10.2009

Museum and Exhibition Centre Veenhuizen, Holland

For the renovation of this listed prison campus in Veenhuizen, the architects’ guiding principle was to recreate the historic mise-en-scène. The concept not only involved opening the classicist building complex – located 170 km north of Amsterdam and long isolated from the outside world – to the public, but also telling about the history of its architectural elements. Planned in the early nineteenth century as a reformatory for the “uncultivated underclass” to be visited of one’s own accord, it soon evolved into a penal colony whose occupants were under lock and key. It wasn’t until recent years, when the conversion of some of its parts was already under way, that its historic significance as ideal city came to light. The Courtyard for Handicrafts, a collection of small workshops to keep the prisoners occupied, was converted to a museum and centre for historic handwork. First the sheds and appendages that had accumulated over the years were removed, re-establishing the original, rigid character. Fixed structural glazing 4 metres in height, with doors of black enamelled reflecting glass, closes in the gaps left by the demolition, and is legible as a new layer. Due to its impressive roof structure, the old blacksmith’s shop is best suited to serve as a museum space. Detailed with restraint and bearing a unified colour concept – even the floor is white – the space is now a blend of new intervention and existing building.
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