The Thermenmuseum in Heerlen houses the oldest excavation site in the Netherlands: a Roman bathhouse from the 1st century AD. In the 1970s, a large hall was built over the ruins, making the excavation accessible to the public. Now, fifty years later, the museum building is outdated and the hall no longer meets the technical requirements to protect the excavation. By renovating the museum, the municipality aims to create an iconic attraction. Team V Architecture was awarded second place in the design competition, with a conscientious design inspired by the architecture of the Roman thermal baths and the spatial structures of the city of Heerlen.
Story of Heerlen
Heerlen has a rich history, which is strongly anchored in the built environment. The museum’s original architect, Fritz Peutz, plays a key role in this history. In order to do justice to all of the chronological layers of the ‘Story of Heerlen’ – appreciated or not – the design retains a large part of the current museum building. In addition to retaining the roof above the bathhouse, as required by the brief, the concrete archive tower and a large part of the basement and foundation will also be preserved. The tower will be transformed into an exhibition space. The steel roof construction above the excavation will be raised and strengthened, creating space for a high circular walkway from which visitors get a panoramic overview of the bathhouse.
The new building connects the museum with the city: not as the solitary odd one out, but a logical continuation of the series of cultural buildings and public spaces that the city of Heerlen is building. Using the analogy of the Roman bathhouse, the museum will have an entrance in the form of a portico. The abstracted colonnade connects to the adjacent buildings and gives the building an open, classic-modern look towards the city centre. A passage through the colonnade provides access to an attractive courtyard. The main entrance to the museum, as well as the entrances to the auditorium, the education room and a water playground are located around the enclosed square. The courtyard refers to the paleastrae in the Roman bathhouse; outdoor spaces for sports, games and other social activity. It is an attractive addition to Heerlen’s existing network of hidden squares and inspiring places of culture.
Though the museum is carefully embedded in the city, it also stands out. Directly above the entrance of the museum is the former concrete archive bunker; extended by an extra floor and a publicly accessible roof terrace, clad with new facades and furnished as an exhibition space. The facade pattern of narrow vertical slots provides a subtle, filtered light in the exhibition space and makes the tower light up at night. This will give Heerlen the desired attractive landmark visible from the city perimeter: a shining beacon in the heart of the city.