rijksmuseum: don’t hit your head on the glass!

20121218_Rijksmuseum Glass

One of the striking aspects to the Rijksmuseum’s new exhibition design is the beautiful minimalism of the display cabinets.  The architects at Wilmotte & Associés spent a huge amount of effort finessing the precise details of the cabinets — every millimeter mattered and each minute detail was carefully considered, designed, and tested via prototypes.  Especially critical was the selection of the glass:  A decision was made early in the design of the Rijksmuseum to not include any lighting within the display cases.  This decision was made to maintain consistency of presentation between objects that were outside of the cases or inside by lighting everything from the track spots above (with the notable exception of a few special artifacts, like some back-lit stained glass pieces or the famous “doll houses”).

The end result is hard to show in photographs and simply must be experienced in real life:  When you walk through the galleries admiring the art, the display cases simply vanish from one’s perception.  So much so, that in fact one of the security guards at the Rijksmuseum was telling me that people routinely smack their foreheads against some of the larger cases — they forget the case is even there and try to look a bit too close at the art.

For example, in the image above, notice from afar how minimal the case appears — and remember, there’s a hinged door on one side of the cabinet!  When you get close enough to inspect the artifact, the glass just vanishes.  I shot the above with a simple Canon S100 point’n’shoot — notice the complete lack of veiling glare or reflections, and also remember that in the close-up shot, you’re looking through two layers of glass (through the corner of the case).

For those of you who are specifying glass for either museum or architectural projects, Wilmotte’s office kindly shared the glass spec with me:

There were two glass suppliers for the showcases:

1. GRO GLASS, Reference Diamond, extra-white glass with an extremely resistant anti-reflective coating (our preference)
We used this for all showcases with the exception of the very large ones due to restrictions in dimension (321 x 225 cm maximum dimension of glass panes)

2. SAINT GOBAIN, Reference Vision Lite Plus, extra white glass with anti-reflective coating.
Used for all the extra-large showcases including the arch-showcases in the Special Collections (600 x 321 cm maximum dimension of glass panes)

Juxtaposing showcases produced with different glass references in the same gallery proved not to be a problem.

And the paint finish on the walls and ceilings is a true matte, eliminating any shine you might get on any of the architectural surfaces.  The matte paint adds a subtle richness to the overall experience.

As I like to tell my clients:  “The devil is in the details!”   Kudos to Wilmotte’s team!