Work Maritime Museum Rotterdam


Type: Maritime Museum design exploration
Client: Municipality of Rotterdam, Maritime Museum Rotterdam
Location: Rotterdam
Year: 2021 
Link: Ontwerpstudie MMR (PDF)

The Municipality of Rotterdam, together with the Maritiem Museum Rotterdam, commissioned a design study to explore the potentials of the current location of the MMR and to re-evaluate the current typology of the museum.

In the heart of the city of Rotterdam, where the Coolsingel and the Westblaak meet, lies the Maritime Museum Rotterdam (MMR). Its presence in Rotterdam is prominent: both in terms of location as well as in the cultural and educational fields. The diversity of the museum program and the potential to attract diverse target groups make the museum unique. The museum also has one of the largest and unique collections of all maritime museums in the world.

The current museum, designed by Wim Quist, is, also in view of the historical context, of plausible cultural value. At the same time, it is known that the current building has certain structural, organizational and identity-related limitations. The current building, which opened in 1986, no longer fits in with the surroundings and does not show the full potential of the place, but even detracts from its qualities. The building is disconnected from the immediate surroundings and hinders connections and views to the historic harbor.

The geographical home of the museum, the Leuvehaven, is one of the last parts of the old Rotterdam harbor that has managed to keep its original form preserved. The historical stratification of the port city of Rotterdam is clearly visible here. The outdoor program of the Maritime Museum extends over the Leuvehaven; together they make an important contribution to Rotterdam's identity as a port city.

The existing building has a closed structure arranged around an open space, which means that the public program is not connected with the city. In addition, good exhibition and event spaces are lacking in the building. Even after renovation, the building will not be able to make optimal use of all the possibilities that the current location offers and respond to the richness that the museum contains.

Based on the foregoing premise, this research focuses on the question of what kind of design does embrace the existing qualities of the location and program. It explores how MMR can become a must-see place in Rotterdam, a museum as a workshop that invites a wide audience.

The architecture of the building is inspired by the offshore rigs, an evolving version of the harbor cranes. The forerunner of the crane - the pulley, is a simple mechanism for changing the direction of an applied force. The building becomes a horizontal pulley system of social activities, interconnected by large vertical lifting platforms and voids. The building is embedded in the tissue of the city. It has extreme spaces contrasting from enclosed to completely open.

“Platform MMR” goes back to the basics of what the Maritime Museum Rotterdam wants to be: a place for all Rotterdammers: accessible, visible, a public space in the heart of the city. In doing so, the choice was made for completely new construction with a more urban typology, in keeping with the current urban context. New design also emphasizes the need for the museum to be more 'open' to the city and to make the usual back-of-house functions part of a new type of Maritime Museum.

The current building of the Maritime Museum Rotterdam (MMR) is located in one of the most important places in the city, where two distinguished boulevards meet in the historic Leuvehaven overlooking the Erasmus Bridge.

The MMR is a unique museum because of the wide range of indoor and outdoor events and workshops. The building is located in the Netherlands' oldest and largest open-air port museum, where historic ships and cranes let you experience how the world port of Rotterdam originated at exactly this location. Therefore, in contrast to the existing building, a closed box with a compact program, the new design for MMR aims to become a stage for the public celebration of Rotterdam. The building as a multiverse, which stimulates the process of self-driven collective experimentation and where the community can grow and develop around communal discussions.

Dissecting the existing program, it was rearranged around a series of elevated public squares opening up workshops, educational classes, depot and temporary exhibitions to the city.

Each platform has its own character belonging to its programmatic layer. New volume responds to the emerging Rotterdam city, being located in one of the future high-rise areas of Rotterdam.

The building embraces the historic harbor and creates a visual connection with the Erasmus Bridge. The building is arranged in such a way that it opens up important visual axes and embraces important urban planning directions, being embedded in the tissue of the city.
On the ground level, the building returns public space to the city in the form of an industrial park with social activators. A square bridge connects the museum with the other side of the Leuvehaven and at the same time offers extra space for exhibitions and various city activities, such as swimming and water purification. It descends towards the water, creating a direct connection with the harbor.

The architecture of the building is inspired by the offshore rigs, the coexistence of multiple activities and experiences, from the underwater to the sublime view over the sea. The building has extreme spaces contrasting from enclosed to completely open, forming a juxtaposition of closed exhibition spaces interwoven with more public functions, interconnected by large vertical lifting platforms and voids.



Lesia Topolnyk (StudioSpaceStation) is an architect, artist, researcher and film director. Raised within a constantly changing political environment and educated as an architect, explores how different realities superimpose in human behaviour and are manifested in physical space.

Through dialogue with different disciplines and mediums, spatial design becomes a language that gives shape to the crucial interaction of visible and invisible processes bringing together global and local concerns.

Founded to respond to the urgent societal and planetary issues, StudioSpaceStation operates across architecture, politics and art.

StudioSpaceStation is a satellite and invader simultaneously. It observes current and future affairs, manifesting resolutions through architecture as a solidified representation of dreams and ideas. StudioSpaceStation provides a vessel for discussion, emergent from critical thinking through perpetual evolvement and experimentation.

Honors & Awards

2023 - IABR Agent of Change
2023 - Financieele Dagblad Top 50 Talent 2023
2022 - Winner Prix de Rome (The oldest and most prestigious prize for talented artists and architects in the Netherlands)
2020 - Talent Grant, Creative Industries, Netherlands
2020 - Young Talent Architecture Award, nomination (by the Fundació Mies van der Rohe and the EU Commission)
2019 - Winner Archiprix Nederland
2019 - Winner Archiprix International
2019 - Winner Tamayouz International Award

Selected Exhibitions

2022 - Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
2022 - Architecture Triennale, Lisbon
2022 - New European Bauhaus, Brussels
2021 - Dutch Design Week
2021 - Biennale, Venice
2020 - Dutch Design Week
2019 - Biennale, Santiago
2019 - Archiprix International
2019 - Archiprix Netherlands

Clients & Funds

Atelier Rijksbouwmeester, Gemeente Rotterdam, Rotterdam Maritiem Museum, Creative Industries NL, Mondriaan Fund, Archiprix, Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), gemeente 's-Hertogenbosch

Portrait Prix de Rome 2022

'Lesia Topolnyk is an architect who focuses on a broader interpretation of her field. She is interested in the potential of her profession within our constructed reality – not necessarily in building things. 'It's about ideas that take shape during the research and design process which generate new typologies,' she says. For her, it's not enough to shape the world reactively, or in line with what already exists. She explains: 'Although architects are seen as people who design spaces, we also design relationships. Especially in these turbulent political times, it's necessary to look at how the world is designed to understand the larger context in which a project is taking place. I sometimes reflect on major problems at a global level, while other times I focus on the space inside someone's mind.'

Topolnyk grew up in Ukraine, and addressed the situation in Crimea with her final project at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. She created a proposal for a building that consisted primarily of corridors – places where discussions and interactions occur that ultimately have the greatest influence on the decisions being made. Continuous mediation of the situation was central to this concept. The architecture symbolised and supported the mental capacity of those involved. In this endless network of hallways, which reference the agora, visitors could have endless discussions which allowed for a continuous debate; politics is an ongoing conversation. Similarly, her own vision of architecture and her process of research and design focuses on conversation, contributions from different positions, and the involvement of people with a wide range of expertise. She therefore frequently collaborates with people who work in different fields. Because 'you can learn from others and they bring valuable insights and viewpoints...'

Her current research is focused on the various crises humanity is currently facing, with a special interest in political systems and the significance of democracy, including its Greek foundations. She is exploring how this form of government was historically designed and how architecture supported and portrayed it. 'It's about how we can shape change and how we can manage the world better together,' she concludes. Architecture can play a role in that by offering design solutions that support the decision-making process.'

Text: Vincent van Velsen

About / Contact