Architects Freyke Hartemink and Jarrik Ouburg insert a restaurant in Amsterdam's oldest chapel

Local architect Jarrik Ouburg gives us an exclusive insight into the temporary premise for Restaurant Vermeer.

AMSTERDAM – Restaurant Vermeer is usually located within Amsterdam’s Barbizon Palace hotel. Whilst the hotel undergoes refurbishment, the restaurant – along with its Michelin star chef – have been relocated to a temporary premise: a chapel which is one of the oldest buildings standing in the city. Local architects Freyke Hartemink and Jarrik Ouburg have transformed the historic chapel with reused furniture and materials. We spoke with Ouburg to find out more about the project.

Can you give us an insight into the building’s rich local heritage?
JARRIK OUBURG: The original Saint Olof's Chapel was built between 1440 and 1450. Some say it was built in honour of Saint Odulphus – the patron saint of the dykes – since it is located on the Zeedijk, which translates as 'sea dyke' in English. The enlargement of the Gothic style chapel in 1644 resulted in a three-aisled church arrangement, with an irregular plan. Following the last service – which was held in the chapel in 1912 – the building has had many diverse uses. Friend and artist Femke Schaap told us that her grandfather was the administrator of the chapel and organised a weekly cheese market within the building. Her father even learned how to ride a bike in it. In 1964, the building was closed by the municipality of Amsterdam due to danger of collapse. After that, the site quickly deteriorated and the chapel burnt off almost entirely. Then in 1991, the municipality bought the chapel and restoration began.

How did you intervene with the space?
At first impression, the chapel’s huge space and mezzanine level can be quite overwhelming. One could say too overwhelming. The chapel gives away all her qualities at first glance. For the restaurant, we wanted to create a spatial experience that has different levels of perception which can be discovered over the course of an entire evening. Therefore, we divided the chapel into six smaller rooms using the structure as a basis. Since the chapel is not entirely regular, all the rooms are slightly different. Whilst walking to your dining table, one can wander through the maze of different spaces. From the mezzanine level, one can have an overview and read the plan of the rooms.

You reused an array of furniture from the hotel renovation, how do you think this influenced the spatial qualities of the interior?
Similar to the way painter Johannes Vermeer used interior elements like a window, table or tapestry to define a space, we used interior elements of the hotel rooms to transform the monumental space of the chapel into small, intimate rooms. The name of the restaurant refers to this intervention: Roomservice at Olof's. Since the hotel rooms all had the same interior with identical curtains, mini bars, night stands and mirrors, a surreal world resulted, where one constantly has a spatial déjà vu. 

How did your concept originate and how has it been applied to the design?
The concept of ‘watching and being watched’ originated from the first moment we explored the space of the chapel and saw the downward view from the mezzanine level. It is here that the spatial layout reveals itself in contrast to the moment one enters the restaurant. Being on the level of the mezzanine gives both an overview and an opportunity to overlook the restaurant, but at the same time exposes oneself to being watched.

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