Natuurmuseum Fryslân

Gerk Koopmans

Natuurmuseum Fryslân

Schoenmakersperk 2 8911 EM Leeuwarden

Leeuwarden, The Netherlands
2012 BankGiroLottery Museum Award

Kids proof, not childish!
Or the risks of a glass roof...


The Frisian Museum of Natural History dates from 1923. After several locations in the capital of Friesland it was housed in 1986 in the historic building of the former City Orphanage, a square shaped building that dates from 1675. The building is a national monument but it is a rather modest architectonic object: the city's orphans were not meant  to live in a palace so it is a rather functional building.

As it was built as an orphanage  there was quite some work to do to make it suitable for a museum. In 1986 this was not done as thoroughly as desired, of course as always due to a restrained budget. Twenty years later, in 2006, we could start a complete redecoration of the building with an adequate budget.

There were two main alterations: one hardly noticeable for the visitors and the second on the other hand very manifest. In the basement we realized a state-of-the-art depot for the 250.000 object of our collection. It is the well hidden treasure of the museum. On top of the central square, where once the orphans had their playground, a huge glass roof was constructed that covers this entire space. No one who visits the museum can ignore it.

Before that, the playground was an outdoor area with few museological possibilities. But now it is a multi functional atrium that measures 400 square meters, with access of daylight, 12 meters of height, a pleasant atmosphere, and well acclaimed acoustic qualities for unplugged music.
Sometimes the building of a museum is considered as its main attraction. There are examples that the visitors enjoyed the empty museum building more  than the presentation inside for which it was meant. We can't claim that for our building but the Atrium is a space that makes the difference with a ls"normal' museum building. 

The permanent exhibition is intended for young visitors from 8 till 88. The presentation is not thematic (all reptiles, all mammals, all insects in separate departments) but storytelling.
Rather than a novel the museum is a collection of short stories, very different  and not connected to each other. One of these short stories e.g. tells all about teeth. This is done in a theatre-like presentation. The teeth are presented in a real dental practice, there's a waiting room and once it's your turn you have to sit down in a real dental chair.

Another presentation tells the story of  poo. Everything you always wanted to know about poo but were afraid to ask  is explained in a realistic toilet unit with water closets as  showcases.
Imagine a combination of Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and Sesame Street; that is what our museum is: learning by doing and enjoying, a mixture of education, fun, information, knowledge, science and always a little tongue in cheek.
It is also comparable to a tapas-meal, not a single course served at your table at once, but several little bites, served one by one. It stimulates the appetite and, without realizing it, the visitor devours  a well prepared, very nutritious meal with lots of vitamins, that is to say: lots of information and  interesting details on natural history.

It is our aim that visitors leave the museum well nourished, and of course with a little smile on their faces.

De BGL Museum Award  2012

April 2012, the Natuurmuseum Fryslacirc;n was awarded the prestigious BankGiroLottery Award and the 100.000 Euros that come with it.
What makes this award different from many others is the active participation of the public in the final judging process. After four museums were preselected, or nominated by a board of professionals, it was the public that had to vote by email for the museum that should win.
We had to contest with three high caliber candidates: Naturalis in Leiden, (the national museum on Natural History), the recently reopened Scheepvaartmuseum (The national Maritime Museum) in Amsterdam, the Child's Books Museum (part of the National Museum on Dutch Literature) in The Hague.

Every year the Award is dedicated to a particular theme. The 2012 award was for the museum most successful in attracting young visitors. We won, of course, mainly thanks to a glass roofhellip;
This needs presumably some explanation. Well it's rather simply to explain: thanks to this glass roof the museum  has 400 square meters of free to use space for a variety of activities.
And that is what we do. Several times a year we transform the Atrium in a vibrant activity centre that attracts lots of young visitors with their parents, more precisely with their grand parents.

We organized e.g. a WaterWonderWeek (all about water and what to know about it), a week on Food (how to produce, how to prepare, how to process), Jurassic Leeuwarden (with a giant skeleton of a 25 meters long Brachiosaurus and a reconstruction of a excavation site in Wyoming, USA).  All these events were organized during school holidays in Spring, Summer and Fall. These activities are very successful, sometimes a little too successful.
A few figures to illustrate that: the average yearly number of visitors is about 45.000 persons, that is about 1000 visitors a week.
Thanks to the extra projects under the glass roof, our total grew to 79.000 in 2011.
But these extra 35.000 visitors came during the eights weeks the Atrium events were organized! In stead of 1000 visitors a week (to which the museum is tailored)  we counted 1000 to 1500 visitors per day!
It isn't difficult to imagine what this means for the organization and the building: long queues for the entrance, loads of extra personnel to help, to assist and to watch the galleries. Temporarily a separation of entrance and  exit, the need to clean the toilets every hour instead of once a day etc. etc.

In this way the museum operates at two different speeds: at cruising speed with the permanent exhibition and the visitors that go with it throughout the year, and the other full throttle with the heavy outburst during some weeks in the Atrium. They don't mix easily and yet the same staff has to fix it.

Thanks to this atrium we are able to organize exhibitions and manifestations that have changed our total mode of operation and they form the base of our prize winning position in 2012, so we owe a lot to these 400 square meters of glass cover.
But the message is clear: be careful when you add a glass roof to your museum...



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