Public Infrastructure

Through the Looking Glass or the Mirror as a Cloaking Device

Another strategy to camouflage ‘unwanted’ objects in public space is to cover them with mirrors. It’s an oft-used device meant to clad a structure with a surface that reflects its surroundings in order to become less conspicuous – the mirror as a cloaking device.

The ventilation shaft pictured is from an underground parking entrance and backed by an emerging iconic Rotterdam building, the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen, designed by MVRDV. The Depot will house the entire art-collection of Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen in addition to works of private collectors; a mind-boggling 151,000 objects ranging in size and including 2D and 3D art and design works accessible by the public.

In ten years’ time, an unsuspecting visitor might wonder which object came first, and which was the mimic? Was the idea to cover the Depot with a reflecting facade derived from the shaft or other reflective surfaces nearby, such as the mirroring wall bordering the square in the Museumpark? An example of inspirational contextualism? Why apply the same strategy?

Reflecting wall, a residue of the Museumpark design by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in collaboration with Yves Brunier.

In architecture, reflecting facades are said to influence public opinion when proposing a building that might be perceived as too big, or too high, or in the wrong place or even, unwanted. This was the case for the Depot as its sheer size and it occupying a substantial part of the city’s beloved green space, Museumpark, was met with a lot of public opposition.

Yet in this case, the rationale for applying a reflective facade was different. The bowl shape and double-curved mirrored surface were employed to offer the public more: more greenery, more city, more view, more sky, all reflected in the building’s surface, A visual cloak to hide and attract at the same time.

The Depot’s mirrored surface is employed as camouflage AND as a statement; yes, it’s big and stands in a prominent location obscuring views, but it gives back in return a fragmented, surrealistic reflection of its surroundings and the Rotterdam cityscape. Thus it almost becomes an artwork in itself, offering a glimpse of an alternative reality, as if passing through the Looking Glass, like Alice in Mirrorland.