Museumplein of Amsterdam

The International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens

XIX Annual Award, 2008

The jury of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens has decided to dedicate the 2008 award to the Museumplein of Amsterdam, a key open space for the life of the city and for the major cultural institutions that give onto it, an emblem of the radically new approach pursued by the Public Administration at the end of the XX century, designed and coordinated by the landscape expert Sven-Ingvar Andersson.
The project is an excellent example of how a clear idea, skilful coordination and community involvement were able to transform an enormous, traffic-ridden and historically unstructured area into a place which, despite its visible organizational problems, eloquently speaks the language of poise and dignity, a “campo dei musei”, a vast lawn in dialogue with the open sky, freely embracing nature, light, water and trees, the presence of citizens and visitors and even great public gatherings.
The design and management of the transformation of the Museumplein together constitute a masterly example of the art of landscape directed in this case at showing the stupendous power of simplicity.
The large catalogue of historic maps of Amsterdam, a particularly rich municipal archive and an extensive bibliography illustrate a hundred and forty years of debate and of failure of the projects devised for the expansion of the city into new areas just outside the walls, in the anomalous triangle between the Vondelpark and the Boerenwetering Canal.
Starting with the plans of Jacobus Gherardus van Niftrik (1866 and 1872), the names attached to the score and more of known and published projects that never got off the ground include those of several important architects and city planners: Petrus Josephus Hubertus Cuypers (1876 and 1891), Hendrick Petrus Berlage (1895-1896), Cornelis van Eesteren (1928 and 1951). The difficulties begin with the size of the open space in question which, despite the building developments and the changes of use, still co¬vers around 8 hectares, and the consequent distances, which together set the terms and constraints of a planning task which is extremely difficult to control. Between the ramparts of the XVII century walls and the old southern boundary of the city of Amsterdam lies a distance of over 600 metres, so the Rijksmuseum (1885) is more than 500 metres from the Concertgebouw (1888) indirectly opposite. And since not only the Rijksmuseum, but also the Stedelijk museum (1894) and the more recent Van Gogh Museum (1973) were conceived with their backs to the common ground, and the concert hall is separated from it by one of the busiest urban thoroughfares, it had gra-dually become accepted that the already complex spatial and functional relationship of four of the most important and intensively frequented cultural institutions in Europe needed to be redesigned and the buildings’ entrances relocated.

Text taken from the 2008 Carlo Scarpa Prize Statement, edited by the Jury.