The start of the design process surrounding the restoration and renovation of Het Groote Museum (Johannes van Maurik, 1848-1854) began in 2012 and is characterized by two main, complementary approaches: restoration and updating. On the one hand, the design provides for a large-scale cleaning operation. In and around the national monument - one of the first natural history museums in Europe that is part of the Amsterdam zoo Artis - all kinds of alterations have been made over the course of a century and a half that have significantly affected the integrity of the building.
Through the demolition of outbuildings, reconstruction and annexation, The Groote Museum now stands free again on Plantage Middenlaan, as a mediator between the hectic urban environment and the startling diversity of nature in the (animal) park. This function is reinforced by the public square that landscape architect Michael van Gessel realized on the garden side. The typology of an orangery - transparent, inviting and stimulating to wonder - was already dominant in Van Maurik's design for the combination of reception rooms (first floor) and museum spaces (first floor) for members and guests of the Artis Society.
In the current design, the innovative constructive and spatial qualities - such as the unique, but once seriously damaged double staircase in the rotunda - have been restored and placed within a 21st-century context. Other interventions that were necessary in connection with the expected flow of visitors to The Groote Museum have also often been fitted in almost imperceptibly. For example, for the structural strengthening of the exhibition halls and their galleries. Although numerous such innovations have been made with a view to safety, lighting, climate control, circulation, etc., they are hardly noticeable. This applies, for example, to the authentic showcases in which the old glass has been invisibly reinforced. Because the handrails of the stairs and balustrades in the entire building turned out to be too low for the current average body height, a subtle doubling was chosen everywhere with a new handrail, cantilevering above the original.
Where new functions were introduced, their materialization and finish made them immediately recognizable. On the museum floor, a grandstand and a staircase were fitted in: the first to facilitate public meetings 'in the hall' and, at the same time, to hide technical facilities; the other to improve the walking route. Both elements also provide escape routes in the event of an emergency.
The most important new addition concerns the construction of a basement: a radical project in which the floor of the rotunda on the first floor was placed on a steel table during the work. This made it possible to create a new opening, both for museum visitors and for the various users of the two rentable reception rooms. In the basement they will find the reception, lockers, information services, toilets and a checkroom. All of these functions could not possibly be realized via the central entrance in the rotunda. The basement also houses facilities for the organization. With the richly decorated terrazzo floor and the tree-fruit lamp that visually connects the entrance area with the first floor, the design adds contemporary interpretations of nature motifs to the 19th-century framework.
Thorough restoration and respectful reinterpretation go hand in hand with a contemporary design perspective on the experience and operation of The Groote Museum. Merk X tackled large structural tasks, but also details such as the adaptation of the historic chandeliers in the reception rooms, or the completion of the missing small lion heads that were installed as vignettes in the bars of the monumental staircase. Every detail, old or completely new, has been given its place in the spectacular composition of the new Groote Museum. After a long period of neglect (or worse), the building has regained the transparency that architect Van Maurik linked with two key concepts back then: 'air and cheerfulness.'