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Kunsthal Rotterdam

Rotterdam’s Kunsthal, a bold exhibition space, is one of the most talked-about buildings of the 1990s. It is also one of the first buildings in which Rem Koolhaas can truly put his ideas into practice. The building is a huge attraction for lovers of architecture throughout the world, but is relatively experimental in its use, both practically and architecturally.

The Kunsthal does not have a permanent collection; it presents a changing programme of exhibitions focusing primarily on visual and applied art. The building contains a number of neutral exhibition galleries of varying sizes, but no storage depot. It also incorporates an office section, a museum shop, an auditorium and a restaurant that can be used separately.

The core of the first design Koolhaas devises comprises a tower, a so-called ‘robot’. A square flat box is attached to this tower; the spaces can be reconfigured using the technology installed in the tower – walls can be moved, tribunes re-situated, allowing the building to change to accommodate a variety of different exhibition concepts.

However, when Jo Coenen wins the competition to design the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI), Koolhaas no longer considers this dynamic but ‘light’ design applicable. OMA, Koolhaas’ firm of architects, presents a new proposal that is more in line with the schedule of requirements of the new director of the Kunsthal. Instead of a free-standing building, the Kunsthal is positioned on the edge of the park; the situation of the building within the urban setting is of vital importance to the design.

The new design retains the square flat box, which is now bisected by two axes – the public ramp and, adjacent to this, an arterial road – that divide the building into four. The building accommodates three exhibition spaces (650 m², 1.000 m² and 1.250 m²), an auditorium, café and offices connected by an ingenious continuous circuit. The visitor is confronted by the straightforward juxtaposition of a range of simple and luxury materials. 

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