OMA's gallery design blamed
for Rotterdam art heist


Kunsthal Rotterdam by OMA

News: the architecture of OMA's Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam has been criticised following the theft of seven major paintings by artists including Picasso, Matisse and Monet.

The heist, which took place in the early hours of Tuesday 16 October, saw thieves break in through the doors of the gallery and escape with millions of pounds worth of paintings.

Security expert Ton Cremers has said that some of the fault lies with the architecture and that this is a recurring problem in Dutch museums. Speaking to Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, he said: "Once inside the building, thieves could easily walk through the entire museum. There were no extra compartments built for the expensive pieces."

Cremers explained that the glazed design typical of many modern galleries gives thieves a good view of the paintings from the outside. Despite calling the Kunsthal "a gem of a building" he told De Volkskrant how it is "an awful building to protect," as it is impossible to move artworks away from the exterior walls.

"Museums should focus more on the security of the buildings," said Cramer. "They are currently too focused on electronics such as cameras and motion detectors."

Completed in 1992, the Kunsthal was one of Rem Koolhaas' first major projects and was praised for providing flexible spaces that can accommodate various exhibitions within three halls and two galleries.

OMA are currently working on designs for a gallery with sliding walls and removable floors in a Moscow park. Find out more in our interview with Rem Koolhaas.

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  • I'm amazed that this wasn't an integral part of the brief…? Perhaps another case of starstruck clients.

    • Tom

      Luckily a brief for a museum consists out of more than just security and luckily clients think that the relationship between the exhibition space and the space around the building might be more important than the opinion of one security expert. Just risk assessment and decision making, mate; nothing to do with starstruck clients. Koolhaas wasn’t a “star” at the time anyway.

    • Anna

      Unlikely seeing as it was one of OMA’s first major projects. It has now also come out that there were no security guards on duty when the robbery happened, a decision that was apparently made with the insurer’s agreement.

      Surely if you know a building is somewhat more prone to robbery you take precautions in other areas, like having guards?

    • omnicrom

      The building wasn't originally designed to house such valuable works.

    • It’s a museum, not a bank. If it were a fortified building it would represent a very different typology to that required by an art gallery.

  • Mario

    It’s just unbelievably silly how fast everyone starts pointing at one another. It just happened the other day, nobody knows how. Lets wait with our judgement, shall we?

    Statistically each museum will experience a theft at some point. So, after 20 years the Kunsthal can add itself to the list. Theft at Van Gogh Museum in 1991 designed by Gerrit Rietveld – bad architect? Oh the list goes on and on…

  • galessa

    It is not clear to me the connection between having “a good view of the paintings from the outside” and actually managing to steal them. Glass walls may be blamed for exposing the paintings to excessive sunlight but not for the absence of security personnel and devices. Further explanations are welcome…

  • Ian

    I don’t really get this commentary. Were the thieves walking by the museum, and on a whim, decided to proceed with a high-stakes art heist? More likely they already had some knowledge of what was inside, what it’s value is and likely something about the security. I’m not really sure that having pieces near the windows is the cause – so the security “expert” might want to reevaluate.

  • Art and culture should be hidden, fortified, and protected from the public.

  • mksh

    This criticism – an art museum cannot be transparant for it might give away the paintings it houses – has been widely criticised and mocked last days. If anything is the core business of a museum it is to make you know exactly what it is in it. To look through a window arguably rates among the most complicated ways to get information. It is at least a lot harder than to – say – just visit the website, buy the catalog or visit the expo…

  • H-J

    It’s because the museum tried to save money and put up some cameras and sensors alone instead of having actual guards next to their technological tools. Cramer would like to destroy the architecture of the museum by creating closed off compartments. I actually thought the thieves just pealed off some of the unconventional materials or removed the duct tape at the corner to get in. At least that’s what I remember seeing at his Expo in Lille…

  • anancarrow

    Seems worth noting the disgustingly excessive monetary value society places on art, rather than any design shortcomings of the establishments that house it.

    • roelatmac

      Anancarrow hits the nail right on the head.

  • Manuel

    Narrow minded “security expert”. Typical comment. Security experts should be trained to have a wider understanding of the building, or just don’t let their opinions appear on newspapers.

  • Sunny

    LOL – “Cremers explained that the glazed design typical of many modern galleries gives thieves a good view of the paintings from the outside.”


    I knew someone would point out such crap… welcome to the Pruitt–Igoe Myth for museums.

  • jaycee

    So lets blame a 20 year old building for being complicit in a crime rather than the failings of the security company, the insurance company, and the curator. Talk about dodging responsibility.