Science is about seeing things differently. By looking differently, scientistin the Golden Age discovered that our planet was not the center of the universe. Looking differently taught us that life is much smaller than we’d ever imagined. Looking differently caused humans to be able to engineer life. Seeing things differently was the starting point for the spatial concept and the interpretive plan by OPERA Amsterdam and Studio Louter for the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, European Museum of the Year 2019.
Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is situated in Leiden, the Netherlands, and reopened its doors in December 2017 after a two-year refurbishment process. The museum has a world-renowned science collection, containing unique objects like the first microscope, made by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Einstein’s pen and the early anatomical books of Vesalius. The collection of the museum is famous and important. However, the objects themselves don’t always reveal these values to the untrained eye. Rijksmuseum Boerhaave therefore invited OPERA Amsterdam and Studio Louter to develop a plan for the complete refurbishment of the museum that would allow visitors to experience the history and relevance of science in an unforgettable, meaningful and innovative way.
The challenge in renewing science museum Boerhaave was to bring the visitor into contact with the stories and people behind the instruments. Studio Louter/OPERA Amsterdam used the Emotional Design method to develop an overall interpretive concept: seeing things differently. Scientists made important discoveries because they looked at things differently. Just like scientists, we wanted the visitors to look differently too.
Themes translated into meaningful metaphors
Previously, the museum presented its collection chronologically. In the new presentation, we guide visitors through five distinct themes - “Golden Age”, “Illness Health”, “Powerful Collections (Enlightenment)”, “Water, Electricity Data (technology)” and “Big Questions (modern science)”. Each theme was translated into a meaningful emotional metaphor that guided the interpretation.
Studio Louter/OPERA Amsterdam drew inspiration from the specific qualities of all premises in the stately historic building. The building is old and diverse with each space having its own unique quality. Those qualities were used to create five meaningful spatial concepts: the excitement of a research loft, the austere atmosphere of a hospital ward, the rhythmic pattern of a row of old houses, the open nature and roughness of a workshop, and the imposing height of a cathedral.
Presentation techniques make the stories personal
Each theme uses a mixture of presentation techniques in order to create a visitor experience that is intimate and open to everyone. The unique collection is presented in such a way that you can marvel at the beauty and ingenuity of it. But it’s always placed in a personal narrative context, making it possible to connect on an emotional level with the object, and the ideas and scientist behind it. This personal perspective helps the visitor to make emotional connections with seemingly unseductive objects. Or as the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad stated: “The new Boerhaave shows the people behind the instruments.”
Interaction was an important element for the new approach. The entire multimedia line is designed to let the visitors see themselves through the eyes of scientists, to see themselves differently. Using the interactives, the visitor himself is always literally part of the experiment. They can see their own X-ray scan dance; their heartbeat becomes part of a story about the history of the ECG and their face is compared to those of 19th century Lombroso pictures of criminals. The visitor becomes a medical ethicist when their opinion is asked about everyday ethical dilemmas. One of the most spectacular exhibits is the anatomical arm projection. The visitor places their arm on a table, and they see a projected scalpel cut it open, revealing the inside of the body. Vesalius’ 17th century anatomical research is projected and explained on their arm.
Specialists from Studio Louter, OPERA Amsterdam and Rijksmuseum Boerhaave worked together on the storyline and concept. Thanks to the close cooperation of the two agencies, the interpretive plan, the spatial concept and presentation tools were perfectly coordinated.
The spatial design was done by OPERA Amsterdam. Interpretation experts from Studio Louter produced the AV together with Sho Sho and Gado Gado. Pieter van der Heijden (XPEX) was the over all project manager on the client side. The construction was realized by Bruns and the hardware by Mansveldt. The exhibition has been realized within the budget and planning. The first pitch was presented in September 2015 and the renewed museum opened in December 2017.
OPERA Amsterdam/Studio Louter won numerous awards with the work on the refurbishment of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave. Not only did they receive three AVICOM F@IMP Awards and two International Design and Communication Awards, the museum was declared European Museum of the Year 2019. The jury stated: “The exceptional public quality of this museum is the result of the artistic way in which science is communicated. The result is science with a human face, inspiring curiosity, wonder and involving a wide audience in debates on important scientific and ethical issues of our time."
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