It will come as no surprise that the “we” at T. van Hulzen design is often just myself. True, working in symbiosis with Studio Louter in Amsterdam means that with each project there’s a whole team involved doing production, content, multimedia, etc. But rarely do I get around to doing a project that is just for myself. That changed this past September and October when I started building my own ‘cabin in the woods’. More specifically, it’s to be a log cabin in Klamath County, Oregon, USA, on the edge of the pine forests surrounding Fourmile Flats, one of the great seasonal moorlands of the Southern Cascades. Fourmile Flats Ranch belongs —not incidentally— to my generous parents. Granting their children land is of course a sinister ploy to spend more time with them. In their defence, it’s a magical land, volcanic and densely forested at 1300 meters above sea level (4300 ft) on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range and bounded on all sides by National Forest and designated wilderness.
There is of course an architectural concept. I couldn’t just let it be a run of the mill log cabin. Call it designer’s pride. The idea is to build a structure on top of a raised platform. This fulfills a number of wishes. One is for it to be a proper wildlife viewing station, another is to have as little impact on the landscape as possible, then there’s the wish to be raised above the elements (flooding in spring and deep snow in winter) and lastly it’s meant to improve the view of iconic Mount McLoughlin in the near distance. To this end I still have to clear 15 acres of scrub pine forest and harvestable poplars (aspen and cottonwood.)
Phase one is to build the platform. When I left on November 2, we—my father and I— had achieved the minimum of what I had wanted. This involved harvesting my own materials, clearing the landscape of scrub and burn piles, quarrying some rock, setting foundations, building piers and hoisting the main girders. We also made some beginnings on milling our own planks and beams with an Alaska sawmill we had acquired. This allows one to mill on the spot on uneven terrain.
It is obviously a project in flux. The end designs have not been determined, and I am leaving it to some degree to the many variables that enter into the equation. In that sense it’s a very organic process. The joy is in the hard work and the extraction of ones own materials. And let’s not forget the euphoria that comes from camping in the great outdoors for 5 weeks on end, cutting firewood, clearing brush, stoking campfires and cooking rough.
I was so busy I neglected to post anything about a brief stint last year as Set Designer for the Dutch feature film Bloed, Zweet & Tranen about the life of the popular blue-collar folk-hero and singer Andre Hazes. The sets were simple, under the direction of production designer and old colleague/friend Alfred Schaaf. Alfred called to see if I was interested in a bit of work, and since it had been so long since I had done proper film work as a designer, it seemed like it could be fun. We recreated an old record store, a music studio, a television studio and some older apartment buildings in the (then) working class neighborhood of Amsterdam, De Pijp. And in the end I got to do some handwork as well, painting a 3×3 meter canvas as an artistic early 60’s backdrop in a film studio.
This year’s edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival will include another work by Todd van Hulzen and Studio Louter. This year we’ve created a projection on the round surface of Renzo Piano’s NEMO Science Center, which people also call the “bow”, as in ship’s bow.
The objective was to make a sliding graphic for a beamer that projects through rolls of acetate, something like a cross between a conventional slide projector and a film roll. The result is an analog scrolling animation. We did the work on invitation from NEMO itself and were supplied with a projector from the vendor Pani. We were asked to make a design that was relevant somehow to the current exhibition “Wereld van Vormen”, an exhibit on the subject of mathematics and geometry. Since we were the ones to actually do the design of that show, it all just kind of fell into place. Although, not without due effort.
The concept is that the world can be broken down into mathematical elements and pure shapes. We’ve chosen to create an abstraction of the city, in particular a city like Amsterdam. There are some bridges and stepped gables, and at the end the buildings pull out of frame and reveal the piles upon which they are built.
See this fantastic time-lapse film of the festival. Our project is at 1:01.
World of Shapes is the name of a big, new, permanent exhibition designed by Todd van Hulzen Design at NEMO Science Center in Amsterdam. Wereld van Vormen, in Dutch, is all about geometry, mathematics and the world we live in. The “soft” opening was Thursday 24 September, and even though there are a few elements that need fine tuning after the work crews leave, it’s up and running and can already be visited during normal hours. When the final batch of spotlights arrive we can put the cherry on the cake, as it were.
Everything around us is either made of geometry of can be reduced to a kind of mathematics. But the world of mathematics, particularly from a classical standpoint, encompasses more that just numbers and angles, it also includes such almost arcane subjects as proportions, perspective and optical illusions. Even phenomena that seem to be mere matters of perception can be explained through the clarity of mathematics and accurate measurement.
Todd van Hulzen design created the designs for the ‘decor’ of the exhibition. But first we came up with the overall “total concept” in cooperation with our dependable creative partner Studio Louter. Studio Louter also created the marvelous digital applications and interactive games. Drumming up a complete concept is harder than it may look, considering all of the disparate parts involved. We unified it in this case with the Universal, meaning we created a kind of self referential world all constructed out of triangles and hexagons. In fact we created something that had never really been done at NEMO, and that is create an exhibit that is truly a sum of its parts instead of a collection of loose interactive elements. The client was thrilled, the visitors are entertained, and we are taking a deep breath until the next project.
That marvelous, terrifying moment has arrived for our project at the NEMO Science Center: the first concrete installations are taking place. No longer a design process in which to endlessly vacillate between possibilities, we now have incontrovertible real objects being installed and constructed. The exhibit furniture and elements are being constructed in Nüremburg, Germany, while the new inlaid linoleum floor is being installed on location at NEMO. Progress, people! After September 20 on view for the public in all its glory.
It’s rare that I do any sculpture work anymore for film like I used to. But this particular assignment really appealed to me for reasons that have nothing to do with money: recreate the stern carvings of the royal flagship that Michiel De Ruyter seized and towed from Chatham during his great naval triumph over the English at the Raid of the Medway in 1667. It just seemed to historically interesting to ignore. The film in question is the Dutch production “Michiel de Ruyter” being filmed in Zeeland (the Dutch province) and the wharves of Lelystad. But the relevant scene concerns De Ruyter’s presentation of his trophy, the royal stern carvings, to the States General of the United Provinces, which was the republican government of the Netherlands at the time. This was being filmed in gothic city hall of Middelburg in Zeeland.
The original stern carvings, or “counter” as it’s officially called, are hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in a gallery devoted to the De Ruyter era. I had to scale it down a little bit for technical reasons (the original is 2½ x 3½ meters) but even making it out of high density polyurethane foam I still had an enormous challenge of volume. With an assistant Rik and some more of the great folks in the De Ruyter art department we managed to get the still wet project in just under the wire. It was heroic! And it looked beautiful in the (artificial) late afternoon light of the location in Middleburg.
Looking forward to viewing the film when it’s released.
Another sculpture assignment I received from the production of the film “Michiel de Ruyter” was to recreate the cruelly lynched bodies of the brothers De Witt, a prominent Dutch politician from the 16th century and his brother who were attacked by an Orangist mob and lynched in the Hague. Obviously there’s a serious story here, and I won’t try to commit it to this page (read it here), but it was famous and compelling enough to make me want to take up the job.
You might ask, why not just use actors? But these corpses had to be eviscerated and lacerated to such a degree that that would be impractical. But engaging the services of one of the excellent special effects studios was budgetarily out of the question. A compromise was found: me. The production designer Ruben Schwarz and myself settled on the idea of culling various body parts from display mannequins, cutting them up and reattaching them. Then we covered them with layers of hard casting wax colored with powdered pigments (from the paint mill De Kat). This allowed us to cut into the surface skin to expose flesh. Wax is actually quite forgiving, as long as you aren’t filming in the extreme heat of the day. Using wax kept the costs down and is a rather low-threshold material to work with. We were rather pleased with the results, and so was the director.
Het Geheugenpaleis (Palace of Memory) in the National Archives in the Hague has won the award in the category “Best International Exhibition”. We jaunted off to London on a lark to be there when the winners were announced, and were totally over the moon when we heard that in spite of the steep competition, we had actually won. I say “we”, but the award truly goes to the team that conceived of it all in the first place, and that would be the folks at the National Archives themselves. So even though I like to claim the award as the chief designer and artist, it will be proudly standing on a mantle in the Hague somewhere. Congratulations especially to Nancy Hovingh at the archives who enthusiastically ferried the project through 3 years of development and production, and a big high 5 to our favourite team at Studio Louter.
“The cardboard design solution is not just sustainable, it looks remarkable too. The cardboard carries one of the central tropes of the exhibition: a memory palace created of stacked archival boxes. By stacking hundreds of boxes in an oblique bond, patterns are created that catch the coloured light in continuously changing waves. The graphic material is all printed on layered honeycomb panels. The effect is controlled and subdued, in spite of the enormous amount of information and a variety of lighting effects. It’s all tied together by that one core element: the archival box.
Our competition in the category International Award (the award is a primarily British affair) will be: The Olympic Museum in Switzerland, The Springbok Experience in South Africa, The Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, and The Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Belgium.
The winners will be announced in May and Todd plans to be there with our colleagues at Studio Louter and Het Nationaal Archief. A good excuse to iron the tuxedo!
A little write up –or rather a series of quotes– in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine (April 2014). The story explores the ins and outs of creating reproduction artwork for films, specifically films about art. In the case of Todd van Hulzen it draws on his experience as a designer and artist for the film Girl with a Pearl Earring. For this film from 2003 Todd organized the creation of approximately 75 different painting from historical sources. Most of them were reproduced digitally, but several were painted by hand, particularly the paintings on the easels seen in various stages of development. Todd was also a hand double for Colin Firth, an instructor in the techniques of painting and grinding of historical pigments and an art-director creating the set designs of the canal-side house of the artist Vermeer.
Several weeks ago we dismantled our exhibit in Münster (see below) and now we’ve just built it back up in Sittard in a very different location. The very secular exhibition has gone to a remarkably godly place: in the cloister of the Mariapark in Sittard, which contains some of the most stunning examples of 19th century religious architecture and sculpture in the Netherlands. So after 2 days of hard work on the exhibit about the Dutch annexation of German territory after the War, we were filled with an extasis of a different Passion altogether. Not to diminish the pain of Dutch occupation, but the stations of the cross at the Mariapark are hard to outdo in suffering. It also offered some interesting contrasts and disconnections, as if Jesus of Nazareth was looking out from under the weight of his cross saying, “top this, whiners!”.
For images of the show as it was first exhibited in Münster, Germany see the album on that subject.
Thanks to Manuéla Friedrich for spearheading this whole project and for persevering when the prospect of ever getting this show off the ground looked increasingly bleak, and to Studio Louter for production.
“Einmal Niederlande und Zurück” is an exhibition that Todd van Hulzen Design created at the Haus der Niederlande in Münster, Germany about German areas under Dutch control after the Second World War. Artifacts and archive materials tell the story of Dutch indignation, retribution and dreams of expansion after the war, as well as the life of Germans living under Dutch rule, cultural shifts and enduring identity.
The exhibition was achieved on a limited budget using a system of standard plot-cut panels printed on a flatbed printer and then fitted together without the use of hardware or tools. Panels were cut from single standard sheets of underlayment plywood. The glass cases were lined with 8mm recycled grey felt. The paper archival objects were hung without frames or passe-partouts, but were instead suspended betweeen 3mm rare-earth magnets and ferous screws projecting from the felt background.
The project was realized with our perennial partner Studio Louter (content and production), as well as Victor van der Meiden (construction), Leanna McAlpine (graphics) and Rijnja Repro (printing and cutting).
The exhibition will also travel to Sittard (NL) and to Bocholtz (NL).
Title: Plates from Colling’s Gothic Ornaments, vols. I & II
Author: James Kellaway Colling (1816 – 1905)
Subject: Gothic Architectural ornaments
Source: Personal collection
Todd van Hulzen shares his scans and files from historic archives on the subjects of architecture and the arts
My recent trip to Münster, Germany reignited an old flame. That goes back to my late teens when I first picked up a book at a used book store in Grants Pass, Oregon titled “Deutsche Kunst” by Wilhelm Müseler. This passion was historic architecture in general, and Gothic architecture in particular. Years later, in 2006, I had the dreamed-of opportunity to actually “build” an entire Gothic church and monastery for the digitally generated sets of the Canadian fantasy television series “Sanctuary”. Even though there was no brick or mortar involved, it allowed me to delve deeply into the spirit and the bones of medieval architecture. Ogival arches, hammerbeam ceilings, bundled columns, and world of forgotten construction techniques. It also allowed me to amass quite a library on the subject, my favorite of which was Viollet le Duc’s encyclopedia on architecture. This you can consult yourself on Wikisource. Marvelous! Here I will share scans from a book I have on Gothic ornament by James Colling from that heyday of Gothic revival, the Victorian Era. Many lovely plates with gilded highlights which have to be turned page by dusty page to be really appreciated.
With all the commotion around the opening of “Temporal Tower” we almost forgot that there was an Amsterdam tram (streetcar) of the GVB (Municipal Transport Company) about to roll out with our name on it. And sure enough, there she is. Dirk Bertels of Studio Louter and Todd van Hulzen worked together on the concept, which is part of the marketing and sponsorship between the GVB and the Amsterdam Light Festival. But Dirk did all of the actual hard work, Todd just stood back and watched and gave self-evident advice. What looks like a white sticker is actually light-reflective film that lights up when directly lit by traffic lights. We settled on light-reflective film after a long search for materials, from glow-in-the-dark to holographic foil. Now that it’s going to be on the rails, we are curious to see if it will make an impression. But our names are printed on it, and that’s what we’re the most proud of. On the rear is a section of illustration dedicated to the Temporal Tower. You can see the scaffolding. Let us know if you see it around.