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Kurokawa's sunflower opens

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam re-opened last month to a royal fanfare and panoply of government ministers, artists, scholars, museum directors and proud, smart-suited Amsterdam citizens. The 1973 open-plan daylit building, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, was originally planned for some 60,000 visitors a year; but just before it closed for renovation, this trickle had become a flood of around a million a year. It is now likely to increase again. For the past 10 months it has been closed. During this time, extensive work to the existing building and the addition of a new wing by Kisho Kurokawa has been carried out.

In his own description of the new wing, Kurokawa reflected on the need to make a constrast with the Rietveld building by using a different geometry. He ignored a circle and sought instead a more interesting form-making opportunity: an ellipse. He wanted to create a buffer zone between the old and the new with a Japanese garden, but eventually strove for a wet garden. He sank the building below grade to offer a low and 'softly' curved facade to the park.

In true Dutch democratic fashion, other architects and designers have been involved in the process of renovation. The original Rietveld building has been extended both upwards and outwards and totally upgraded and modernised by Martien van Goor of Greiner and Van Goor Architects. Van Goor's gallery scheme respects Rietveld's original spatial configurations but has upgraded the lighting standards and finishes in the main galleries to meet modern museum requirements.

The addition of a 652m2 aluminium-curtain-walled administration tower is not so pleasing. When juxtaposed with the masonry perimeter-wall, a further discordant element to the park elevation has been added, although the main axis of Kisho Kurokawa's oval extension takes its cue from the angle of this wall.

Apart from that, Kurokawa's building appears as an isolated object set in the park. It connects directly with the Rietveld building through the lower level. It is at this new level that access is gained into the new wing via an escalator (when will someone redesign these heavy old-fashioned looking things?) or a glazed lift.

Once down, the visitor enters the outer elliptical foyer space that surrounds the smaller oval-shaped object rising up into the park, and is then confronted by the neutral 'void' of the paved wet garden with its thin sheet of water trickling over it.

The great foyers swing round on the left side to the ground-floor gallery (where the Kisho Kurokawa Retrospective Exhibition is now on show) and on the right to the entrance of the well-detailed staircase leading to the double-height upper gallery. Here, currently exhibited, is a unique array of work connected with Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo.

Throughout the whole Kurokawa wing, sober colours respond to the elements. At the lower level the sun and shade are reflected in the sheet of water moving over the dark slabs. Externally, the building is finished in materials ranging in tones from black to white. Small white fascia boards announce the separate asymmetrical connections in the empty space between the glazing and the great curved Canadian-granite blocks and the galleries and the foyer.

Protruding from the sloping facade above the wet garden is the corner of the mezzanine gallery, clad in aluminium. The titanium-topped roof- canopy hovers above a range of clerestory windows completing an ensemble that is as open as a flower in full bloom.

It is all carefully controlled by a dynamic geometry derived from the basic oval shape of the plan. Here again, as with so many of Kurokawa's startlingly original museums in Japan, a symbiosis takes place among the parts - between form and volume, and between building and park.

The fully illustrated Kisho Kurokawa Retrospective catalogue, Kisho Kurokawa: From the Age of the Machine to the Age of Life, edited by Dennis Sharp, is available from the publishers at the Book Art and Architecture Bookshop, 12 Woburn Walk, London WC1H OJL, tel 0171 387 5006 at £25 + £2.50 p&p.

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