The Hague’s iconic museum is worth a visit for the building alone

The Kunstmuseum re-opens

When passing the big yellow brick building on the Stadhouderslaan many people are surprised to hear that it is a museum. Of course the letters on the front clearly indicate the function of the building, but the architecture doesn’t. At least not to the untrained eye, for when you truly start studying the building there is definitely more than meets the eye! 

The design of Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) created an uproar. The critics spoke with disdain about this block like building and called it cigar box architecture. The general trend in museum architecture in the late 19th early 20th century was an impressive building with a  grand staircase leading to a podium of columns supporting a temple front. Such a building was awe inspiring but hardly inviting. 

Berlage and Hendrik Enno van Gelder, director of the museum, aimed at exactly the opposite. The building has to be inviting making sure that everybody would feel welcome in the museum. Creating figuratively and literally speaking a low threshold, the visitor of the Kunstmuseum does not encounter any psychological nor physical barrier to enter the museum. The is no overwhelming entrance, not even a tympanum. The museum is not marble clad but build with yellow brick around a concrete core. The yellow brick was designed by Berlage especially for this museum, making the entire structure build around the measurements of 11 cm and multiplications of that (for instance the entrance gallery is 33 m long). Looking at the pattern of the bricks you will also notice that this can never uphold the building, it is the concrete construction that does. This was still relatively new, especially for museum buildings.

Before going in, don’t forget to look at the roofs, for the glass triangular structures are responsible for letting the most beautiful light in the museum. This light was exactly  the reason why the location was selected, close to the coast allowing the same light as was used in the Haagse School paintings. The museum guards could regulate the light in the large exhibition hall by hand creating a different atmosphere every time the weather changes. This still one of the unique features of the museum.

Accessing directly from street level one is welcomed by a sculpture of a personification of The Hague and then the cultural journey begins, leaving your to-do list and concerns behind you. Wondering through this beautiful day light museum is a true feast, especially after having been closed for months. So do not hesitate to visit the Kunstmuseum again and appreciate the iconic architecture as well as the renowned collection.    Wendy Fossen of Casa dell’Arte  4th June 2021