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gardens, art and a wonderful monastery

Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht

Our competition proposal for the extension of the museum takes the medieval monastery as its starting point. Its spatial beauty is the focus of the reorganisation of the museum. The museum zoning is carefully matched to the natural conditions and limitations of the existing buildings. A few building volumes of wood and brick, added with a careful hand, provide the desired renewal and extra space. The new buildings are timeless and sustainable and, together with the existing ensemble, can grow (preferably very) old.

site: Utrecht, historical centre
design: competition
consultants: Jan Piet van der Weele, technical installations
images: KSA, with special thanks to Mia Barnard, Ewout de Bleser and Teun van Dillen
publication: https://architectenweb.nl/nieuws/artikel.aspx?ID=51590
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The site plan in the historic centre of Utrecht, between Lange Nieuwstraat, Zuilenstraat and Nieuwe Gracht. Black: existing buildings; red: our proposed additions

A complex design task

Museum Catharijneconvent, the leading museum of religious art in the Netherlands, is located in a monastery complex in the centre of Utrecht. The museum needs more visibility, larger multifunctional spaces and contemporary visitor facilities. Five selected design teams worked on sensitive issues and posed a complex technical, spatial and logistical puzzle. Decisive in deciding on the winning design proposal proved to be the question of how a contemporary museum wants to distinguish itself through architecture, what visual language is perceived as appropriate (and spectacular enough) for this purpose and how this relates to a responsible relationship between new interventions and the existing buildings. To this question, the design teams (Caruso StJohn, Cruz Ortiz, HCVA, KAAN and KSA) gave fundamentally different answers.

Huidige Entree

The museum's current entrance is perceived by visitors and the museum as too invisible and uninviting.

Huidige Museum Tuin Img 1136

The existing monastery garden is not currently part of the museum experience. The existing spaces provide no connection between inside and outside.

Huidige Pandgang

The historic interior of the cloister is currently barely experienced due to its use as a highly-conditioned exhibition space for precious works of art.


Museum Catharijneconvent, the leading museum of religious art in the Netherlands, is located in a monastery complex in the centre of Utrecht. The museum needs more visibility, larger and more versatile exhibition spaces and contemporary visitor facilities.

The monastery forms the museum's largest property and exhibition object, but is currently insufficiently experienced and valued. In the current arrangement, the historic spaces are hidden behind museum-technical additions such as blackouts, featureless stucco and doubled up windows. Our proposal aims to make the beauty, patina and layering of the monastery complex part of an integral museum experience.

The museum is a diverse ensemble consisting of several distinctive buildings, gardens and terraces that together create a rich and spatial whole with complementary qualities. Our proposal aims to exploit the character differences of existing and new indoor and outdoor spaces, to connect the different spaces and building parts in a meaningful way and to use them for the story the museum wants to tell.

248 Schema Entiteiten

The current museum consists of some clearly distinguishable entities, all of which are retained in our proposal: the monastery (red), the canal house (green), the auditorium building (blue) and the so-called roadmaster's house (light blue). The cathedral and a building along Zuilenstraat (pink) belong to the ensemble but are not part of the design brief.

248 Schema Pandgang Als Hart

In the design, the cloister is given a central connecting role, separate from the actual collection presentation. As customary in the medieval tradition, the cloister is a walking area connecting the various properties belonging to the monastery.

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The new north wing of the cloister completes the current three-sided corridor. The bright space is intended as a group accommodation area, walkway with contemporary art, transition space between inside and outside and loggia overlooking the garden.


Museum Catharijneconvent is a place where people come to hear, read, see, experience and exchange stories. This is as much about introspection and conversation as it is about the inspiration and information offered. Here, the sequence of buildings and gardens forms its own storyline that has meaning alongside the exhibitions and collection presentation.

We therefore attach great importance to the sensory experience of new and existing spaces, acoustics, the tactility of applied materials, the quality of daylight, artificial light and views. In addition, new and existing spaces offer opportunities to stay and meet.

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Ground floor plan: in pink the connecting public spaces, with the new north wing of the cloister. To allow the existing spaces to be experienced properly, the historic cloister is 'relieved' and stripped of its function as a highly-conditioned museum space. As a result, the beauty of the existing architecture will be better experienced.

Weiterbauen to the monastery

On either side of the monastery, we add two new buildings, the 'City Building' and the 'Garden House'. Within the cloister, we complete the three-sided pledge corridor by adding a new north wing, replacing the existing glass bridge.

The three contemporary additions each have a connecting function, between monastery and city, between monastery and garden and between monastery and canal house. In all newly built wings, indoor and outdoor spaces are interlinked and views and daylight are part of the architecture.

With their characteristic colour scheme, beautiful high rooms, wooden ceilings and roof structures, the new volumes are inspired by the old buildings. At the same time, their sustainable use of materials and generous window openings make them unmistakably contemporary.


The starting point of the collection presentation: the new 'garden house' is a beautiful wooden structure with characteristic spatial qualities that fit religious art, which by definition is meant for spaces with character (rather than white boxes).

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The end point of the collection presentation: the double attic of the new city building, like the 'garden house' a fine wood construction, offers appropriate spatial possibilities for showpieces and views of city and cathedral.

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First floor plan: this is where the collection is presented in specially tailored rooms. The new building volumes on either side of the corridors form dignified starting and ending points.

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From the inside, the 'city building' offers beautiful views of Lange Nieuwstraat. The space forms the transition between city and convent and is part of the square and surrounding shopping area.

Linking city and monastery

The new entrance building on Lange Nieuwstraat blends naturally into the Utrecht urban fabric. It presents itself as part of the street and opens up to the city with large windows.

The double roof refers to the original buildings from the 16th century. At the same time, the abstract design of the red brick facade and the unusual roof skin of ceramic slates create an image that subtly distinguishes itself from its everyday neighbours.

The relatively shallow volume has a striking front door, angled shop windows and a beautifully designed gate used mainly for art transports.

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Building of the cathedral forecourt in the Middle Ages (reconstruction)

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Today's 'empty' forecourt, without a visible entrance to the museum

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The design proposal with new entrance building, conceived as 'city building' with reference to the past

Zoning with space for many visitors

We see a visit to the museum as an integral experience in which the experience of spaces and gardens, the concentrated visit of exhibitions and relaxation alternate.

We divide the building complex into different spatial, mental and climatic zones. The zoning deliberately does not fully coincide with a division of programme sections and possible 'payment limits'.

In the open zone, the spatial experience of indoor and outdoor spaces by all visitors is paramount and the climatic conditions are tailored to the character of the historical spaces.

In the various exhibition zones, climatic conditions are tailored to the display of sensitive works of art.

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the open zone: the reception area in the entrance building ('Stadspand') leads to the cloister, the place where everyone can get their bearings in the cloister and the garden

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the open zone: at the end of the route, one arrives at the auditorium building with café and seating area in the former Roadmaster's House. Here one has a view of old and new buildings and the second, hidden garden.

Open zone - cloister and garden

Foyer, introduction and experience for every visitor

For all visitors, the entire building corridor acts as the main reception, access, orientation and experience space, with new and existing passages to the garden and refectory.

Pandgang north, a new wing: loggia on the garden

On the north side, we complete the circle by adding a new north wing that is carefully fitted into the existing architecture. The wing has spatial and logistical significance.

The new cloister garden: paradisiacal centre of the museum

As in any monastery, the monastery garden is the spatial and symbolic centre. New planting and seating areas ensure that the central meaning of the garden is actually experienced by all visitors.

248 Schema Klimatologische Zones

The zoning follows the spatial conditions of the existing buildings: light blue- the experience of the historical spaces is central; middle blue- the spaces where historical spatiality can be responsibly combined with museological, climatic conditions; dark blue- new buildings and highly conditioned historical spaces, with perfect facilities for the most vulnerable works

Flexibility and character

The canal house can accommodate one, two or three different exhibitions at the same time. Each floor has special rooms overlooking the canal, a 'garden room' each with access to a new conservatory and, in between, neutral, more serviceable spaces that can be arranged differently for each exhibition.

The 'landing square' forms the link between zone 'open', the spaces for the collection presentation and the exhibitions.

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section through the new 'Garden House', the canal building and the monastery

A 'Garden House' in the inner area

On the east side of the convent, we are building a single-roofed volume: the 'Garden House'. The building presents itself as an independent unit between monastery and canal house. The space on the ground floor serves as a multifunctional 'landing square' with an information desk. The space has French doors and views of terrace and garden. It can be used independently or as an extension of the exhibition space. The existing outer walls of the monastery and church and the generous views of the historic facades and garden define the interior.

The special attic space on the first floor is dedicated to the collection presentation. Framed views of cathedral and garden are part of the museum experience.

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routing through the exhibitions in the canal house

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interior of the canal house: the exhibition rooms in the monumental building are representative and classical in character, the other rooms flexible, contemporary and adaptable

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exhibition rooms in the canal house with beautiful views over canal and city