LocationDomplein, 3512 Utrecht, The Netherlands
Construction ContractorAannemersbedrijf Van Zoelen, Utrecht
Ground WorkTheo Pouw Groep, Utrecht
Construction ManagementAestate, Odijk
ArcheologyCity of Utrecht / department of Heritage in coöperation with Ex-Situ archeology
Installation and ClimateLBP/Sight in cooperation with HE-adviseurs / Nieuwegein
Text description provided by the architects. DOMunder is situated in the very heart of Domplein [square], between the Domkerk [church] and the Domtoren [tower]. Here, below the ground, there are still remnants of twenty centuries of history, including the pillars of the central nave of the Domkerk which were wiped out by a storm in 1674. DOMunder has been implemented across a surface area of about 350 m2 with the deepest point at 4.70 metres. The design is based on and positioned as such that it falls exactly within the ‘outlines’ of ‘trench 19 and 20’, which were digs carried out by archaeologist Van Giffen back in 1949, on the condition that no undisturbed archaeological materials would be lost. Research and modelling On the basis of an extensive and comprehensive research of documentation materials of these digs in the form of stratigraphics and photographs amongst other things, a virtual 3D reconstruction was made of the original mass that was present. On this basis a forecast was made of what the visually perceivable result would be after the excavation, what would still be present and what could be expected both physically and visually.
This 3D model was further perfected after intensive consultations with the Agency for Cultural Heritage and Archaeology (RCE) on the basis of results obtained after a test excavation and survey into the positioning of cables and piping. All available data has been digitised and processed in this model. This current model made it possible to ascertain a route which was free of obstacles, not only to enable steel sheetpile walls to be installed without vibrations, but to be able to design a largely selfsupporting roofing structure which keeps account of the different levels of the remnants of the pillars, and is suitable for a traffic category 60. The model makes it possible to trace any physical bottlenecks in respect of the archaeology and the schedule of requirements, to be able to study and project the solution.
To enable access from Domplein, an access hatch was designed which consists of a series of Cor-Ten steel fingers which, having been folded together form a closed surface and hatch. The underground space is accessible by way of a single stairwell. The stairwell becomes a pathway, and the path in turn is formed into steps to an even lower pathway. The course and the dimensions of the modular path can be adapted in situ to the future archaeological activities.
Since the Gothic pillars have their foundations on solid ground at more or less 5.50 metres below the surface level, the ground profiles and foundations of practically all time periods became visible during the excavations, with different elements and remnants of the different periods at every place. In order to perceive these differences and physical (sometimes restricted) circumstances as ideally as possible, by way of creating an incision in the archaeological find, a walking route was developed of sustainable sheeting material, well-suited for climatic conditions of 75% or more humidity. By creating places (platforms) on this route where it is made possible for (groups of) visitors to calmly digest the impressions made, the experience can be directed. On the one hand this pathway guides the visitor along a multimedia wall, and on the other side along the directly tangible archaeology in all its undiluted glory. This Cor-Ten steel monocoque wall functions like a soft lining between the physical bordering of the area and the vulnerability of the contents. This lining is perforated with a numerically controlled range of hundreds of thousands of different-sized little holes. By backlighting these, together, they form pointillist images of historical scenes. This provides a superb effect in combination with projections, thus giving the underground discovery DOMunder a dynamically exciting and spatial character. Simultaneously, this structure creates an inbetween space to be able to facilitate the extravagance of state-of- the-art technology without becoming visible.
For the orientation and to enable the archaeology and physical remnants both inside as well as outside at the square to be experienced in a spectacular manner, openings have been created in the deck which enhance the relationships to each other and to the pillars of the Domkerk [church] and Domtoren [tower] which are still present above ground. These lens-shaped openings are actuated by means of aperture shutters so that the incoming amount of light can be controlled precisely and according to planning.
Nowhere else in the Netherlands can twenty centuries of history be experienced at a single venue. While using an interactive torch the visitors descend into the darkness in search of the remnants that re-tell the stories of Domplein.
It's not only the story about the largest cathedral of the Netherlands that stood here until a tornado blew away the nave in 1674, but by the same token remnants of the Roman forts, of the settlement of Willibrord and of various previous churches that used to be at Domplein. By descending underground with a torch, visitors assume the role of the archaeologist. In this way they uncover in their investigation the unbelievable history of the square. When they light up a foundation or archaeological find it triggers, for example, an explanation from the urban archaeologist who narrates via an earphone what the visitor sees. Besides this archaeological expedition which mainly arouses curiosity, there's also the multimedia descent in time. Aided by the detailed 3D reconstructions of Domplein, visitors are progressively taken further back in time. They virtually find themselves, amongst other things, in the Gothic church and take a look around in the Roman Fort (Castellum).