Intellectual Heritage 2.0

A light installation by designer/artist Maarten Baas sits over the entrance to the public library at Utrecht, in the Netherlands, and uses a pop ‘channel’ to convey a cultural message

“Intellectual Heritage” @ Utrecht Public Library, design Maarten Baas – Photo © Maarten Noordijk
“Intellectual Heritage” @ Utrecht Public Library, design Maarten Baas – Photo © Maarten Noordijk

Entitled Intellectual Heritage, it has the task of attracting Generations Alpha, Z and Y and maybe even the much-mocked boomers, to culture. It is the bold installation by Dutch designer/artist Maarten Baas placed right over the entrance door of the oldest public library in the Netherlands, at Utrecht.

With a touch of the Las Vegas casino and reminiscent of an advertising hoarding, the structure occupies 9.5 x 8 metres along the facade of a building from the early 1900s, one of the most iconic in the city, designed by architect Joseph Crouwel in the style of the Amsterdam School.

A series of three-dimensional signs and LED text displays, all at different scales, are spread randomly almost as if they were emerging from the magic hat of a conjurer, illuminated 24/7 at different intensities throughout the day.

Photo © Maarten Noodijk
Photo © Maarten Noodijk

Baas intentionally plays with references to high culture as well as pop, without either  prevaricating on the other, in a form of joyful and inclusive interaction that aims to bring people closer to culture so as to convey the vast intellectual legacy, to both young – Utrecht is a student city – and old.

On the installation, Latin words appear like slogans: Lectori Salutem (Greetings reader), Scientia potentia est (Knowledge is power) and are mixed with names of famous authors, from Virginia Woolf to Franz Kafka (Baas’s favourite writers). Dutch words also feature: Literatuur (Literature) Poëzie (Poetry) and Strip, a term used for comics with a different meaning from the English. In between there are words like Study Study Study or Silence, two major activities for students.

One of Baas’s most famous design projects, the ‘Clay Chairs’ series – Photo @ Marielle Leenders
Maarten Baas’s ‘Schiphol Clock’ installed at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport – Photo © Thijs Wolzak

Finally, different texts alternate periodically on three (programmable) LED displays, showing a famous poem from Utrecht, a digital list of important authors and Nobel Prize winners for literature, a number of popular songs and slogans from Utrecht.

The challenge of the civic public library has been addressed with resilience and resourcefulness, with a desire to connect the public with in-depth information in an age in which digital technology not only dominates but sometimes even delivers ideas in a distorted fashion. The merit of Baas is that of having extended the message outside the walls of the library, demonstrating how the physical and digital dimensions of modern life merge with one another