Museumplein Limburg has been completed in Kerkrade, a town at the Dutch-German border. Two new public facilities, Cube and Columbus, have been added to the existing Discovery Centre Continium. With these additions, Kerkrade hosts the first design museum in the Netherlands, the first inverse planetarium in Europe, as well as a wide range of new public amenities. Shift architecture urbanism’s design is an urban ensemble defined by clearly recognizable volumes, all connected by an elaborate underground public space.
Museumplein Limburg formalizes the entrance into Kerkrade for both train passengers and visitors arriving by car from the main access road. Museumplein Limburg creates a trinity of complimentary museums: Continium, Cube and Columbus, combining technology, science and design in one museum district. Continium is a discovery centre for science and technology, while Cube is a design museum consisting of design expos and exploratory labs.
Columbus houses a unique Earth Theatre shaped as an inverse planetarium and a 3D cinema conceived in partnership with National Geographic. Together these elements become a “museum without boundaries”, where visitors are regarded as participants rather than spectators. They discover the world and their place in it through interaction, participation and debate. Hence, in addition to museum galleries, Museumplein Limburg also offers shared facilities for conferences, events, workshops and education.
Composition of primary forms vs. elaborate underground landscape
Above ground, the complex appears as a composition of primary solids: a cube, a sphere and a beam. Their pure geometry and omnidirectional orientation counteracts the amorphous and introvert character of the existing museum. Each building has a custom-made facade that emphasises its pure form and free-standing character. The new industrial materials connect to the original building, a former industry museum.
A large part of the 7500 m2 new program is located underground. By extending the sunken square (the best feature of the original museum) underneath the new volumes, a continuous underground landscape is created that connects all the facilities of Museumplein Limburg, both old and new. In addition to the new museum square, this excavated landscape in red concrete hosts a central entrance hall, a restaurant, an enclosed patio and two tunnels connecting to Cube and Columbus.
Cube, the design museum, is truly a cube of 21x21x21 meters. A glass plinth creates the illusion of a volume floating above the red underground landscape. Together with the patio, this plinth allows for natural light and views into the temporary exhibition space located underneath. Cube is a vertical exhibition machine offering its programmers maximal freedom and flexibility. Its top floor offers a multifunctional event space that can be partitioned in many different ways by means of a curved curtain system. The only specifically shaped element in Cube’s interior is the main staircase that links all gallery spaces of this vertical museum. It is made of identical straight flights which are variously rotated, creating the effect of a cascade falling down a 25 meters high void.
Columbus is a spherical building, half above ground and half underground. The lower half accommodates the Earth Theatre, an inverted planetarium that offers visitors the experience of an astronaut looking back towards planet earth. In the upper half of the Columbus Sphere, underneath the dome, is the first National Geographic 3D cinema in Europe. Columbus’ cupola is made of two shells of shotcrete. The concrete was sprayed on a permanent geodesic scaffolding filled in with triangular plates of EPS isolation. The seamlessness of the shotcrete skin emphasizes the absolute form and its density guarantees sound insulation from the loud shows inside.
With its recessed glass plinth, the beam serves as a grand canopy for the public walkway between train station and city centre that runs right through the museum district. Furthermore it marks the two entrances of Museumplein Limburg with two large cantilevers at both ends. The bridge-like structure of the beam allows for maximum transparency between the public walkway on ground level and the underground entrance hall. Truss beams along both longitudinal walls are supported on just a few randomly placed columns in combination with functional elements such as the elevator shaft. This hybrid system escapes quick reading and makes the beam seem to float.
The new sunken museum square forms the heart of Museumplein Limburg. It extends seamlessly underneath the floating beam that hovers above the double height entrance hall. The linear entrance hall serves as the logistic backbone of the whole museum district. Visitors descent into this space via one of two wide staircases at both ends: one orientated towards the train station and the other towards the town’s centre. By situating a large portion of functions underground, the built footprint on the ground level was minimized, thus leaving space for public walkways to criss-cross the complex on this level.
Integration of pubic space
The public walkways crossing through Museumplein Limburg firmly embed the museum district into the public space of Kerkrade. On the walkway to and from the train station, designed as a scaled up zebra crossing, pedestrians can see lively areas of Museumplein Limburg such as the entrance hall, the sunken square and the temporary exhibition hall underneath Cube. A transversal walkway, punching through the entrance hall, connects the sunken museum square to the district’s bus terminal in the forecourt. This walkway provides train and bus passengers direct access to the museum’s restaurant which can double as waiting room, transforming the museum square into a true extension of the public realm of Kerkrade. Source by Shift Architecture Urbanism.
Location: Kerkrade, Netherlands
Architects: Shift Architecture Urbanism
Architect In Charge: Thijs van Bijsterveldt, Oana Rades, Harm Timmermans
Project Team: Pieter Heymans, Rene Sangers, Davide Prioli, Thomas Grievink, Dalia Zakaite, Irgen Salianji, Mariya Gyaurova
Structural engineer design phase: ABT, Delft
Advisor building code and fire safety: Bureau Bouwkunde, Rotterdam, NL
Advisor Installations: Bremen Bouwadvies, Heerlen, NL
Construction management: Bremen Bouwadvies, Heerlen, NL
Contractor: Mertens Bouwbedrijf, Weert, NL
Contractor installations: Spie, Elsloo, NL
Execution construction: Van de Laar, Eindhoven, NL
Client: Discovery Center Continium, Kerkrade
Area: 75,000 m2
Photographs: Henny van Belkom, René de Wit,
Kenneth Tan, Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism