I’ve shown you the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum bicycle “tunnel” on my blog before. Already explaining that it is an underpass and not a tunnel. But is that even true? When you look at it from the inside of the museum you realise that it is almost like a ‘tube’ going right through the building. The museum is all around it, not only on top and to the sides, but also underneath it!
The Amsterdam people fought a long battle to keep the cycle passage through the Rijksmuseum when the museum was restored last. That restoration took over 10 years and it was finished in 2013. The passage was reopened that same year. When you use that underpass you are on the outside of the museum, but right in the heart of it. When you cycle in the passage, you have the feeling that you are on solid ground, because the pavers from the squares in front of the museum (and also behind it) continue in the passage. You can now look into the courtyards on either side of the passage through windows that were only added in that last restoration. Before, the passage had a closed wall at either side. What you do not realise, however, is that the museum extends to underneath your bicycle! Both courtyards, that are covered with a glass roof and which the museum calls ‘atrium’, are connected with an underpass under the bicycle passage. The best way to see that is from inside the museum. When I visited the museum some weeks ago, I had to wait for the people who I was with to get their coats from the cloakroom and it suddenly struck me how invasive that bicycle passage really is. So I got my phone out and filmed people passing by on their bicycles and on foot. I think it is mesmerizing how they are on the outside inside the museum.
Video showing people passing by on foot and on their bicycles from inside the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.
The courtyards were original to the 1885 building of Dutch architect Cuypers, as was the passage. The courtyards had already been covered with a glass roof, but they had never been connected. They were used as exhibition area, but the Spanish architects of the latest restoration wanted to connect them and use them as a main entrance hall. The architects would have loved to remove the bicycle passage to create one large court yard, but that didn’t happen! That is why they lowered the floors below ground level and connected both courtyards under the bicycle passage. The light, polished Portuguese stone floors reflect the daylight coming in through the glass roofs. This gives the atrium a spacious look and feel. The added windows in the side walls of the passage enhance the open atmosphere and the end result is a really very beautiful entrance hall, albeit divided in two parts.
On the website Inexhibit, Riccardo Bianchini, describes the courtyards as follows:
“The Atrium is a large entrance area, publicly accessible, created by covering two internal courtyards, encircled by the Cuypers’ brick buildings, and connected to one another by a gently-sloped tunnel, located underneath the main access passage.
The space conceived by Cruz y Ortiz copes with the imposing Gothic architecture of the old palace by juxtaposing clearly-contemporary elements to it so to establish a coherent visual and functional framework, where old and new can coexist.
Thus the decorated 19th century brick facades are counterbalanced by airy and visually light-weight elements, like the metal and glass roof, the two giant chandeliers overlooking the atrium and the pale-gray stone floor and cladding. The chandeliers play various roles: they perceptively ‘rescale’ the imposing height of the atrium to a more human scale, at the same time providing lighting and an acoustical correction, by reducing the, otherwise excessive, sound reverberation time within the halls.
Along with being visually excellent, the project also provides the museum with new, cutting-edge functional spaces, such as an auditorium, a shop and the “grand cafe”, as well as ticket and information desks and cloakrooms.”