Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: "Portrait" (2007)
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Jaap Drupsteen)


Jaap Drupsteen works from his studio in Huizen and is well-known for his graphic design work for television – including opening titles, music videos and video productions – and for his highly praised design for the last generation of Dutch guilder banknotes. He also produced the graphic design for the current Dutch passport and a number of postage stamps. In addition he concentrates on his band Tom Push, for which he composes electro-jazz music, supplemented by his synchronized motion graphics projected behind the musicians. In other words, his is a broad field of work, the spectrum of which he expanded with a new specialization with his design for the Institute for Sound and Vision. ‘No commission is quite like any other,’ he says. ‘In the past I’ve also produced art objects for buildings of the Dutch Post Office. They thought I could do anything. And I did; I wasn’t afraid to. I always think it’s fun to be presented with new problems.’

Because of the public character of his work, Drupsteen often has to deal with the public opinion. And the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision was no exception, as many passers-by complain that the television images on the façade are not sufficiently recognizable. ‘I never delve much into that, what the audience wants,’ he says about this, laconically. ‘Of course the audience always wants colour. If you try to create subtle transitions of colour nuances, and produce a balanced combination of tints, you always get the comment, ‘I think it’s gloomy.” And if you put in a few primary colours, you know in advance that everybody will be saying “gorgeous” and “cheerful”.’ Yet this doesn’t mean that the opinion of the audience means nothing to him. ‘Of course I want to be appreciated. But how can you ever make something beautiful if you don’t get a kick out of it yourself?’ In the world of television, too, there are a lot of people making those populist programmes. If you call them on this, they say, “that’s simply what the audience wants.” I never really trust these people. Often the presumed taste of the audience is nothing more than their own taste and talent. And this is also true of design.’

The pre-selection of the images on the façade was done by Hans van den Berg of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. During this same period, many broadcasting organisations were preparing to celebrate their 75-year anniversary, putting together their own compilations of their television history, which simplified the selection. The final choice of images was made in consultation with Jaap Drupsteen and Michiel Riedijk.

The definition of the images is produced by the relief in the glass. Drupsteen blurred the colours according to a standardized formula, so that the colours of the various panels are linked horizontally, forming, layer by layer, a continuous loop around the building. This gives each panel a unique position within the composition. This colour blurring had to be very precise. At 820 C (the temperature at which the glass panels were melted into their moulds), many pigments turn milky, making primary CMYK colours impossible. The non-primary colours that were used turn an ugly shade of brown if they overlap, so the colours were separated so that they just barely touch. Drupsteen derived his designs in JPEG format to the TNO research institute, which perfected the pixel files for the printer of glass manufacturer Saint Gobain.

Jaap Drupsteen is happy with the project, but he does hope that the white façade behind the glass panels will eventually be coated with a layer of aluminium, as he intended. ‘Because the windows behind the panels are black, at the moment they really stand out against the white behind the coloured glass panels. Besides, the reflection of the clouds and the sky will be greater with an aluminium coating.’ The construction process, involving so may different parties, was new to Drupsteen. ‘I broke through the consultation structure in a very informal way a few times. Sometimes when I was unhappy about something I’d send everyone an e-mail. They weren’t used to that. But otherwise the formal procedure leads to collective dissatisfaction at the end, and that’s no good to anybody.’ Without this informal input the building would never have become what it is now: as groundbreaking as Drupsteen’s earlier work. Sometimes you really need outsiders in order to forge new paths.