After many years of discovering, exploring, dreaming, planning, designing, excavating and building, DOMunder was opened in mid June 2014 and Utrecht can boast with another historical attraction.
DOMunder wants to exhibit the grandeur of twenty centuries of history, and to allow visitors to perceive the impact of the collapsed portion of the Dom Church: the size of the nave, the extent of the foundations and the building techniques from centuries ago. The aspiration is to literally take the visitors back in time, by taking them from the ground level of the square to the days of yesteryear. Times of fortune and adversity, of peace and unrest. DOMunder creates a deepening experience and environment which conjures up the shadows of history.
JDdVarchitecten designed the spatial concept for a Cor-Ten steel monocoque protection of the preserved archaeological contents. In this, the visitors are led along a pathway that connects all the places and spaces of the story's perception. Through the various directions and levels of the pathway the visitor gets the feeling of straying through time and descending deeper in time. The dimensions and capacity is calculated for a guided tour of between 20 to 25 visitors at a time.
Tinker Imagineers devised and produced what the visitors would perceive: an archaeological expedition which arouses curiosity. Visitors assume the role of the archaeologist. When they light up a foundation or discovery with their interactive torches, it triggers a sensor to display an explanation of the urban archaeologist and/or an image.
DOMunder is situated in the very heart of Domplein [square], between the Domkerk [church] and the Domtoren [tower]. Here, below the ground, there are still remnants of twenty centuries of history, including the pillars of the central nave of the Domkerk which were wiped out by a storm in 1674. DOMunder has been implemented across a surface area of about 350 m2 with the deepest point at 4.70 metres.
The design is based on and positioned as such that it falls exactly within the ‘outlines’ of ‘trench 19 and 20’, which were digs carried out by archaeologist Van Giffen back in 1949, on the condition that no undisturbed archaeological materials would be lost.
Research and modelling On the basis of an extensive and comprehensive research of documentation materials of these digs in the form of stratigraphics and photographs amongst other things, a virtual 3D reconstruction was made of the original mass that was present. On this basis a forecast was made of what the visually perceivable result would be after the excavation, what would still be present and what could be expected both physically and visually.
This 3D model was further perfected after intensive consultations with the Agency for Cultural Heritage and Archaeology (RCE) on the basis of results obtained after a test excavation and survey into the positioning of cables and This current model made it possible to ascertain a route which was free of obstacles, not only to enable steel sheetpile walls to be installed without vibrations, but to be able to design a largely selfsupporting roofing structure which keeps account of the different levels of the remnants of the pillars, and is suitable for a traffic category 60. The model makes it possible to trace any physical bottlenecks in respect of the archaeology and the schedule of requirements, to be able to study and project the solution. To enable access from Domplein, an access hatch was designed which consists of a series of Cor-Ten steel fingers which, having been folded together form a closed surface and hatch. The underground space is accessible by way of a single stairwell. The stairwell becomes a pathway, and the path in turn is formed into steps to an even lower pathway. The course and the dimensions of the modular path can be adapted in situ to the future archaeological activities. Interior concept Since the Gothic pillars have their foundations on solid ground at more or less 5.50 metres below the surface level, the ground profiles and foundations of practically all time periods became visible during the excavations, with different elements and remnants of the different periods at every place. In order to perceive these differences and physical (sometimes restricted) circumstances as ideally as possible, by way of creating an incision in the archaeological find, a walking route was developed of sustainable sheeting material, well-suited for climatic conditions of 75% or more humidity. By creating places (platforms) on this route where it is made possible for (groups of) visitors to calmly digest the impressions made, the experience can be directed. On the one hand this pathway guides the visitor along a multimedia wall, and on the other side along the directly tangible archaeology in all its undiluted glory. This Cor-Ten steel monocoque wall functions like a soft lining between the physical bordering of the area and the vulnerability of the contents. This lining is perforated with a numerically controlled range of hundreds of thousands of different-sized little holes. By backlighting these, together, they form pointillist images of historical scenes. This provides a superb effect in combination with projections, thus giving the underground discovery DOMunder a dynamically exciting and spatial character. Simultaneously, this structure creates an inbetween space to be able to facilitate the extravagance of state-of-the-art technology without becoming visible. For the orientation and to enable the archaeology and physical remnants both inside as well as outside at the square to be experienced in a spectacular manner, openings have been created in the deck which enhance the relationships to each other and to the pillars of the Domkerk [church] and Domtoren [tower] which are still present above ground. These lens-shaped openings are actuated by means of aperture shutters so that the incoming amount of light can be controlled precisely and according to planning.
Archaeological Experience Nowhere else in the Netherlands can twenty centuries of history be experienced at a single venue. While using an interactive torch the visitors descend into th darkness in search of the remnants that re-tell the stories of Domplein.
It's not only the story about the largest cathedral of the Netherlands that stood here until a tornado blew away the nave in 1674, but by the same token remnants of the Roman forts, of the settlement of Willibrord and of various previous churches that used to be at Domplein. By descending underground with a torch, visitors assume the role of the archaeologist. In this way they uncover in their investigation the unbelievable history of the square. When they light up a foundation or archaeological find it triggers, for example, an explanation from the urban archaeologist who narrates via an earphone what the visitor sees.
Besides this archaeological expedition which mainly arouses curiosity, there's also the multimedia descent in time. Aided by the detailed 3D reconstructions of Domplein, visitors are progressively taken further back in time. They virtually find themselves, amongst other things, in the Gothic church and take a look around in the Roman Fort (Castellum). A second audiovisual highlight is ‘the terrible tempest’ that overwhelms visitors during their stay under the ground. It's as if the storm that destroyed the nave in 1674 rages once again over the square. By making use of state-of-the-art computer animations, lighting and sound effects, the visitor relives this historic storm.
All of this takes place right in the middle of the archaeological discoveries, amongst the ground profiles and foundations. Preservation Extremely stringent limiting conditions had to be complied with in order to accomplish the public centre, particularly from the RCE point of view. To summarize, after the excavations, the ground profiles and the archaeological remnants/discoveries had to be preserved as such, that these could be maintained in both the short and in the long term, while being exposed to oxygen and light without degenerating. To be able to accomplish this, in recent years a comprehensive survey was undertaken in comparable circumstances amidst existing sites that have already been comparably preserved. This survey forms part of the EU Portico project (a collaboration between Cologne, Chester, Ghent and Utrecht in the field of research into preservation methods for archaeological digs).
In order to integrate the technical installations regarding these conditions as much as possible, the required plant room was built elsewhere, outside DOMunder. The entire installation has been designed and dimensioned as such that no visible elements are required at the square other than the access hatch. Inside DOMunder, grateful use was made of the inbetween area between the lining and physical shell. Technology and craftsmanship This project was made possible not only by virtue of modern technology, but especially by the knowledge and expertise of traditional craftsmanship. The technology of the portrayal for example of an image by means of an accumulation of light points is actually decidedly archaic. However, in order to achieve the uniquely shaped lining or a balustrade of the walkway, this method was inadequate to effectively turn this into a unique 3D form. Only professionals who are highly experienced with the processing of sheeting material into complicated shapes appeared to be in a position to compose curved 2D planes into unique 3D forms. The official opening was undertaken by Jet Bussemaker, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science.