The Rijksmuseum, which reopened last year after a decade of restoration and remodelling, is a museum dedicated to “the Dutchness of Dutchness.” Pierre Cuypers, the building's original architect, began designing this neogothic cathedral to Dutch art in 1876; it opened in 1885 and has stood guard over Amsterdam's Museumplein ever since.
Over the centuries, the building suffered a series of poorly executed 'improvements': intricately frescoed walls and ceilings were whitewashed; precious mosaics broken; decorative surfaces plastered over; and false, parasitic ceilings hung from the walls. Speaking in his office overlooking the Rijksmuseum’s monumental south west façade, Director of Collections Taco Dibbits noted how the most appalling damage was incurred during the mid-20th century: “everything had been done to hide the original building […but] Cruz y Ortiz [who won the competition to redesign the Rijks in 2003] embraced the existing architecture by going back to the original volumes of the spaces as much as possible.”
For Seville-based Cruz y Ortiz, choosing what to retain and what to restore, what to remodel and what to ignore were, at times, difficult to balance. Cruz y Ortiz found their answer in the mantra: 'Continue with Cuypers'. They threw the original elements of the building into relief but did not act as aesthetes for the 'ruin'. In contrast to David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap's restoration of Berlin's Neues Museum, for instance, Cruz y Ortiz rigorously implemented a clean visual approach that favoured clarity over confusion. What is original, what is restored, and what is new mingle together in a melting pot of solid, understated architectural elements. Sometimes this approach contradicted Cuyper's original intentions; however, more often than not it complements them in a contemporary way.