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A Starchitect Museum Ups the Wattage With A-List Interiors

Nowadays, every museum on the planet is hot to hire a starchitect for some preposterously expensive napkin-sketch of a building people will talk about for a day — two, if it’s any good. But as the newly revamped Groninger Museum in northern Holland suggests, you can coax just as much razzle-dazzle from a smart renovation (and at a fraction of the cost).

Nowadays, every museum on the planet is hot to hire a starchitect for some preposterously expensive napkin-sketch of a building people will talk about for a day — two, if it’s any good. But as the newly revamped Groninger Museum in northern Holland suggests, you can coax just as much razzle-dazzle from a smart renovation (and at a fraction of the cost).

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The museum reopened recently with interiors by a handful of design’s bright young things: a high-tech info center by Spain’s Jaime Hayon; a restaurant by Dutchman Maarten Baas; and a lounge by Studio Job, the Antwerp-based duo that likes to put skulls on things and, in this latest space, riffed off a 19th-century private gentlemen’s club (obviously!).

Naturally, the museum looks like a loony bin — what you might’ve gotten had Dorothy Draper lived to turn a white gloved-hand to Pee-wee’s playhouse. That’s to say: It is so strange and so awesome.

Plus, it totally fits the museum’s character. The Groninger — which shows contemporary and modern art — transformed into something of an architectural experiment back in 1994, when design-world heavyweights like Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini, and Coop Himmelb(l)au started littering the campus with a clutch of weird, whimsical exhibition spaces. (Apparently, Frank Stella was supposed to design a building, too, but got canned after suggesting it be made out of exorbitantly priced teflon.) More than 10 years and four million visitors later, the museum was showing wear and tear and desperately needed an update. So Groninger’s mucky mucks entrusted the task to some fresh creative minds, in the spirit of what the press department calls ?constant innovation and improvement.”

It’s good business, too. All told, the facelift (including some exterior work) cost less than 6 million Euros or about $8 million. Imagine if the museum had decided to tear down the aging premises and hire Frank “I-heart-budget-overruns” Gehry to build anew. They’d be looking at eight figures, maybe even nine. But by tapping talented, young designers to focus on an interior refurb, Groninger comes by its au courant design cred cheap. And who knows? The place might even sell more tickets, to boot.

[Images via the Groninger]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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