Behind the dignified façade of the Plantin-Moretus Museum lies a conglomeration of houses and workshops, gardens and courtyards. Countless rooms and passages together make up a marvellous world of luxury and letters, leather and paper.
A substantial part of the collection is currently kept in cellars and attics. These spaces do not comply at all with present requirements for the conservation of historical books. Adequate archives are urgently needed for the prints, books, wooden type and copper plates. A new reading room is also required so that visitors can study items from the collection.
There is only just enough space left on the museum’s site, in the form of a small plot used as a car park in a narrow side street off Vrijdagmarkt. It is the final piece that will close off the site and can easily be incorporated into the whole labyrinthine ensemble. In addition, given its own entrance, it can function independently.
So the new building will be a terraced house in the street. What form of expression is the façade to be given? The storerooms, with their need for strict climate conditions, cannot be given windows. Although the reading room on the ground floor does need light, it also needs discretion and quiet. Together with the artist Benoit van Innis we created a composition in solid wood. It will be in relief, comprising uprights and horizontals that relate to the lively neighbouring Renaissance facades, which themselves are stone interpretations of half-timbered facades.
You enter the reading room indirectly via the front door of the neighbouring building. An anteroom here forms the link between the town and the reading room and between public and private. With its distinct construction in columns and beams, the interior of the reading room reflects the solidity of the structure needed to support the storerooms above. We chose to finish this steel construction in wood veneer so as to put its seriousness into perspective and to focus attention on the representative nature of this exclusive public interior. The terrazzo floors, leather wall-coverings and wooden panelling relate to the distinguished interiors of the museum rooms.