In the sleepy town of Zwolle, Netherlands, the Museum de Fundatie's neoclassical 19th-century portico and façade recently gained an ovoidal-shaped crown. This recently opened expansion, designed by the Netherlands' own Bierman Henket Architecten, is meant to evoke a cloud passing overhead. Constructed with a traditional and rectilinear structural steel system, the elliptical form is framed in treated soft timber and clad with custom-designed, texturized glazed ceramic—which gives the addition its celestial feel.
To cover the structure's irregular curved form, Bierman Henket had to produce 4,000 filler tiles of different sizes, which were installed at an angle to direct rainwater away from the roof. An oblong window was also installed to allow natural light into galleries, but was carefully placed on the north-facing side to allow only indirect light so as to not damage the artworks. Nearly doubling the square footage of the Museum de Fundatie's exhibition spaces and adding a new café, Bierman Henket Architecten's rooftop expansion marks the transition of Zwolle into a modern, 21st-century city, leaving behind the insular and protected character of its Medieval history.
At first, Bierman Henket's design seems entirely unique, calling to mind numerous references found in nature from one form—could the giant egg or cumulus cloud also be a rugged stone found at the bottom of a river? Perhaps the architects took precedent from Norman Foster's glass dome that was added to the rebuilt neoclassical Reichstag building in Berlin. With its 360-degree views of the surrounding city, double-helix staircases, and environmentally friendly features like the use of daylight shining through the mirrored cone, the dome was designed to symbolize the contemporary aspirations of a reunited Germany.
The Reichstag and Dome by Foster and Partners, photo via
And then there was that other recent (proposed) bulbous museum expansion: Diller, Scofidio + Renfro's never-built design for a seasonal inflatable extension to the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC. Nicknamed the "bubble," DS+R would have constructed a 145-foot tall inflatable meeting hall in the Hirshhorn's courtyard—like a lightweight balloon swelling from the center of the museum.
DS+R's "bubble" for the Hirshhorn, photo via
DS+R's fresh proposal would have added a feeling of lightness to the museum's sculptural concrete form, but unfortunately, the steep price tag and concurrent resignation of Hirshhorn Director Richard Koshalek burst the bubble before it could inflate.
While it's unlikely that Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Bierman Henket Architecten took inspiration from each other's proposals, these two experimental additions beg the question: Which came first, the bubble or the egg? We'll see if whimsical orbital forms inflating on rooftops bceomes the next big trend in museum design.