Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: "Portrait" (2007)
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Edwin van Huis)


The new building of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum is the reification of a merger that took place in 1997, when the Audio-Visual Archives Centre Foundation (AVAC), the film archives of the Netherlands Government Information Service, the Film and Science Foundation and the Broadcast Museum Foundation joined forces under the name Netherlands Audio-Visual Archives. Their collections were scattered in nine locations across the Netherlands. As much as 70 per cent of their material was stored in unconditioned facilities, resulting in significant technical decay. A new, centralized archive with a proper climate control system would, among other things, save considerable maintenance and restoration of the material.

The merger created the largest audio-visual archive in the Netherlands, and one of the largest in Europe. The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision combines the archive with a public visitor function, making the institute the only one of its kind. According to Edwin van Huis, the institute’s director, this combination is made possible by the Netherlands’ unique broadcasting structure. ‘The largest European archives are those of the BBC in Britain, the INA in France and the RAI in Italy. But these are all corporate archives and cannot accommodate a public or cultural function. In Hilversum, 22 broadcasters have turned over management of their archives to a single company, making it possible to create an archive of national significance, which is also open to the public.’

Until the beginning of this year, every programme was submitted to a selection process to determine which programmes were eligible for archiving. ‘There are objective criteria for this’, says Van Huis. ‘For example, all drama programmes were retained, but only a few episodes per programme in case of tv shows, However, digital storage is getting to be so inexpensive that we’ve recently decided to keep everything that’s produced.’ In addition, for one week twice a year, all the programmes of all the commercial television stations are recorded, to give the institute as broad a field of view as possible.

Neutelings Riedijk were commissioned to design the institute following a competition in 1999, in which, besides the winning architecture firm, the firms of Bethem Crouwel, de Architecten Cie., Mecanoo and what was then still Alsop Störmer also took part. Along with Van Huis, who served as auditor, Chris van Beers, Pieter van der Heijden and Jan Vriezen represented the institute on the jury committee. The committee’s report included a detailed explanation of its recommendation. ‘With its startling transition from the light exterior to the solid interior, this design, in a certain sense, can be called cinematic, even dramatic,’ it reads. In spite of the detailed argumentation, Vriezen says, the choice was not difficult: ‘We were immediately taken with the drama of the design. The day we made our decision, I was so excited that I didn’t get any sleep the following night.’

Now that the building has been completed, it is exactly what the four men imagined it would be, although the scale of the building is somewhat greater than they had anticipated based on the drawings. ‘Once the shell was up, I thought, “What have we done?”’, says Vriezen. ‘All that bare concrete and that huge structure did give me wobbly knees a few times during the construction. There’s such an enormous amount of mass hanging above your head. So much power. We hung 80 tons of steel in there to make sure it all stays up.’

The reactions of the staff of the institute to their new facilities were unanimously enthusiastic, says Van Huis. The coloured glass provides a warm atmosphere to the offices, which therefore require little in the way of furnishings like art on the walls. Vriezen and Van Huis are charmed by the vague images on the glass. ‘There are 748 television images on the building,’ Vriezen calculates. ‘If you figure 24 images per second, that means that the façade represents only 31 seconds of the total of 700,000 hours of archive material. That’s a fraction. If you make these images too recognizable, you get arguments about the legitimacy of the selection.’ Van Huis looks at it another way: ‘Because the images in the glass are not immediately clear, recognition takes place over time. Some of the images you see only at the end of the day, when the sun is low. You could spend years figuring out the whole building. If you visit the building only once, you don’t know it, not by a long shot. That makes it interesting. It creates a personal relationship between you and the building.’