Here is a review of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, titled "Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory Encased in Glass," as reviewed by Nicolai Ouroussoff.
HILVERSUM, the Netherlands — It’s almost daunting to note how many young architectural talents are flourishing today in the Netherlands. If Rem Koolhaus, the profession’s reigning intellectual prince, casts a long shadow, it’s clear that plenty of emerging architects have managed to assert strong creative voices of their own.
The completion of their Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision here can only elevate their status. Wrapped in a luxurious skin of colorful cast-glass panels, it is their most gorgeous work to date. Yet beneath the glittering surfaces they have fashioned a serious critique of a world saturated in advertising and marketing images, and reaffirmed architecture’s heroic stature.
A leafy suburban hamlet southeast of Amsterdam, Hilversum is best known as the center of the Dutch television industry. Yet it has quietly amassed an impressive array of architectural works. The folded concrete forms of the Villa VPRO, the offices of a private broadcast authority designed by the Dutch firm MVRDV, are visible from a distance; Willem Marinus Dudok’s low, graceful brick town hall, a landmark of early-20th-century Modernism, is a short drive away.
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, the home of the national broadcasting archives, was conceived as a perfect cube, half of it buried underground. In addition to the archives and offices, it houses a museum, making it a new cultural focal point for the city.
Standing on an isolated lot flanked by a small garden, its glowing glass shell recalls the translucent exterior of Gordon Bunshaft’s 1963 Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale . Like many architects of their generation, Mr. Neutelings and Mr. Riedijk have been heavily influenced by postwar architects like Bunshaft: the brutal directness of his buildings carries particular appeal when so much architecture is corrupted by fairy-tale images straight from Disney. Both buildings are taut, confident structures. But Mr. Neutelings and Mr. Riedijk’s building is rooted in pop culture rather than in the ethos of postwar corporate America.
Conceived in collaboration with the 65-year-old artist Jaap Drupsteen, the structure’s panels are imprinted with famous images from Dutch television: the justice minister riding his bicycle, say, or Johan Cruyff scoring a goal. Using computer technology, Mr. Drupsteen ran the images together and baked them into the glass.
The effect is mesmerizing. The images are only barely discernible from certain angles, as if the building were imprinted with the faint traces of shared memories. But the exterior facades are also a sly critique of contemporary culture. The blur of images conveys the daily bombardment from the Internet, television, movies and newspapers, yet here they seem frozen in time, as if temporarily tamed.
Inside the building that tranquillity gives way to a comic-book version of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” with strict divisions between various worlds. Visitors enter via an internal bridge that crosses over an underground atrium. From here, a vast hall conceived on the scale of a piazza leads to a cafeteria overlooking the calm surface of a reflecting pool. On one side of the hall looms the ziggurat form of the museum; on the other, a wall of glass-enclosed offices. Here the spectral glow of the interior of the cast-glass skin evokes the stained-glass windows of a medieval cathedral.
It’s a stunning space whose power lies in the contrast between the various architectural experiences within. Clad in cold gray slate, for instance, the underground atrium is a striking counterpoint to the heavenly glass walls above. Mr. Neutelings and Mr. Riedijk call the atrium their “inferno.” It also evokes a tomb: big, square openings are cut through the atrium’s walls, revealing a series of corridors painted a hellish red. The archives are tucked behind these corridors, where researchers and scholars, you suppose, toil away with the concentration of monks.
Neither fiery nor blissful, the offices are something closer to purgatory. Arranged in neat little rows, they open onto long, narrow corridors that overlook the bustling main hall. The office interiors are more contemplative, the colored cast-glass panels alternating with more conventional strip windows. The colored glass emits a soft glow that is strangely soothing.
But the true inferno, in visual terms, is the museum. Mr. Neutelings and Mr. Riedijk set the entry stairs off to one side of the main hall, as if they were trying to avoid it. There are hints of the architects’ presence inside: the walls of the museum auditorium are covered in an elegant, diamond-shaped pattern, and two small openings pierce the darkness at the top of the stairs to the museum’s upper floors, offering sudden glimpses of the colorful glass skin.
But the architects had no control over the design of the exhibitions, and what little architecture there is here is completely overwhelmed by a nauseating mix of interactive installations, reproductions of stage sets and tchotchkes from old Dutch television shows. The effect is cringe-inducing.
Like many architects, Mr. Neutelings and Mr. Riedijk are struggling to come to terms with a society that is on the verge of being completely consumed by global advertising and marketing images. More often than not, architecture is becoming a tool of those interests.
By sealing off these competing forces in distinct worlds and then juxtaposing them, the architects have subtly reasserted the dignity of the public realm, while providing a potent commentary on where our culture is heading.