Michael Wilford unwraps Hague visitor centre
[First look + plans] Michael Wilford’s practice Wilford Schupp Architekten has completed this titanium, glass and brick visitor centre at the Peace Palace in the Hague, the Netherlands
The ‘discreet’ L-shaped building houses exhibtion space, souvenir shop and security screening facilities under a curved roof structure.
Designed by French architect Louis M Cordonnier, the Neo-Renaissance, early Twentieth Century Peace Palace is known as the seat of international law and is the home of the International Court of Justice.
A spokesman for the Carnegie Foundation, which is responsible for the Palace and the new centre said: ‘For years tourists have come in buses and milled around the gates with their cameras and that’s been it for them.
‘Now they can come in, learn about the institutions and the difference this place makes in the world.’
The architect’s view
The new, discreet building serves two primary functions – control of access in and out of the Carnegie Plein by vehicles and pedestrians and an introduction of visitors and tourists to the history of the Peace Palace and the work of its Institutions.
Separate parallel entry and exit security lines are provided for judges/VIP’s and visitors. For special events both lines can be combined to accommodate large numbers of VIP visitors arriving within a short space of time. A projecting glass booth controls truck and car access.
A visitor exhibition sequence telling the story of the Peace Palace rises by shallow ramp from the entrance hall around an exhibition wall to the observation level providing unobstructed views of the Peace Palace façade and gardens. The sequence incorporates an informal audio visual presentation space at mid-point. Visitors return to entrance level by a short stair and can either pass through security for a tour of the Palace or exit the building via the souvenir shop.
The ‘L’ shaped footprint of the Visitor Centre is primarily accommodated in the narrow inclined space between the entrance wall and southern tree boundary of the Carnegie Plein. It is separated from the wall by an entrance courtyard and its presence gently signalled by the curved roof form viewed through the ornamental gates and railings. This location sets it to one side of the primary axial view of the Peace Palace.
The building form and fenestration is focused towards the Palace, with transparent entrance areas to allow views through from both sides and provide an enticing hint to visitors of the activities contained within it. The gallery is more enclosed to provide optimum conditions for the exhibition and audio-visual presentations.
The soft curved titanium roof rises gracefully to the south and west, opening views to the Palace from the interior with a modulated profile to enclose and unify the variety of spaces it contains. It embraces a brick base that relates to the historic entrance wall and the Palace. The open, west façade also clearly indicates the exit route from the Carnegie Plein for officials and visitors. Terrace areas around the building echo the traditional paving materials and patterns of the Plein.
The architectural language of the visitor centre mirrors the form and material of the recently completed Library and Academy Hall. It is the final part in a trilogy of new building elements that use red brick and slate grey metal to respect the monument status of the historic Palace but, in looking to the future, provide individual contemporary identities.