The NEMO Science Museum is located on the Oosterdock (the eastern dock of the river Ij), in Amsterdam. It’s one of the must-see attractions in the city – not just for its five floors of fun, interactive science exhibitions which attract over half a million visitors a year, making it the fifth most visited museum in the Netherlands – but for the truly striking building itself.
In designing the NEMO science museum, Italian architect Renzo Piano had a unique challenge; the site of the building was above a major automobile tunnel under the river. Piano embraced the challenge, using the curvature of the tunnel, which was the foundation of the building, to influence the rest of the museum’s design. Being above a busy tunnel, Piano also had to consider how the movement of hundreds of cars driving down the tunnel would affect the building, and ensure that it was countered. The final design therefore features both curves and a slanted design to counterbalance the movement in the tunnel, creating a building which seems to rise out of the water – many have likened the building to the bow of a huge ship.
The huge curves of the building of course required a malleable, flexible material cover. For this reason, copper was chosen, which over time has given the museum it’s distinctive green colour. Another original characteristic of the NEMO museum is its rooftop piazza. Unlike many other cities, Amsterdam did not have a piazza or central square. Piano changed this with the large, flat roof space of the building, which became the city’s piazza. Since 1997 visitors have had an elevated viewpoint from which they can enjoy views out over the beautiful, historic city. In addition, since 2013, the roof has also been home to a wide variety of different types of plants earning it a ‘green’ accolade.
In contrast to the unique and visually arresting exterior, Piano took a minimalist approach to the interior of the museum. The walls are a neutral grey, there are few windows, and, combined with visible wiring and piping, Piano’s description of the stark interior as a ‘noble factory’ is apt. His design was deliberate to ensure that there are no distractions from the many exhibits and things to interact with.
The clever design of this unique building and its extraordinary contents is an example of architecture at its best; Piano thoroughly considered not only the impact of existing surroundings but also what the building would – and could – offer the city and to visitors. This appreciation of blending new architecture seamlessly with its surroundings is mirrored in the ethos at Westbury and that is why the NEMO science museum is this month’s Westbury’s Pick.