New façade for the expansion of the Rembrandt House

Amsterdam’s Museum het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House Museum) decided to restore the original building as a house in period style. The building was returned to the state it was in when Rembrandt lived and worked there. The extension was planned to accommodate exhibition space for the museum’s own collection, the library, the museum shop and a new entrance.

The neighbouring 19th-century Saskiahuis (‘Saskia’s House’) had fallen into disrepair and has now been redeveloped and completely rebuilt. In consultation with the developer, the plan for the Saskiahuis was altered and the facade that was to be reconstructed was shifted 7.50 metres further along to make room for the extension to the Rembrandthuis. The museum’s interior architect had placed the programme for the extension within this building, which was already undergoing reconstruction. However, Amsterdam’s buildings inspectorate did not grant planning permission for the design of the new facade and the enclosure of the roof structure. In the end, Zwarts & Jansma was asked to design the facade and the roof. It was the most superficial task, literally speaking, that the bureau has ever been asked to carry out.

The new facade forms the link between the 17th-century Rembrandthuis and the originally 19th-century Saskiahuis, which was completely rebuilt. The facade follows the classic tripartite division that is seen throughout Amsterdam. The extension has a transparent substructure containing the entrance. The mid-section is enclosed, protecting Rembrandt’s light-sensitive etchings and drawings displayed in the exhibition spaces. At the level of these enclosed spaces, the facade is clad in a curtain of folded-plate copper panels. The zigzagging sectional view of the cladding resembles horizontal blinds, which increase in size towards to top. The copper facade widens towards the top, and also follows the forward-leaning facade of the old Rembrandt House.

The horizontal strip of fenestration with the office accommodation behind and the fascia in natural stone lead up to the cornice of the facade. The library and the space for the technical installations are placed in a recessed roof structure. The back-stepped roof structure is clad in zinc.

The facade is divided into three by vertical strips of natural stone. A detail from an etching by Rembrandt has been sandblasted onto the folded copper plates and bronzed, in reference to the building’s function and the prints exhibited behind the facade. On the scale of the facade this blown-up copperplate by the painter almost becomes an abstract pattern. It is only from a viewpoint on the opposite pavement that the detail of the original engraving is recognizable, and the ‘distortion’ of the image on the louvre-like copper cladding is tailored for viewing from this spot.