The building of the former Thomas de Beer wool mill, which is the remainder of a much larger factory complex, has a certain mysteriousness: a peculiar closed box that reveals nothing about its interior.

The mill was still in use when we first came there early part of 1990. The process of transforming raw wool into yarn determined the layout of the complex in a very logical and simple manner. Because of this process, there is a characteristic alternation of spaces. First the large storage rooms for the wool, then a wide and high corridor, an area with smaller storage rooms, and then a vast open area with skylights. The condition of the factory made it necessary to carry out a total renovation and rebuilding. In terms of its structure and physical presence, the building had all the distinguishing characteristics of a Dutch Factory: functionally and technically, there was no more than absolutely necessary. This is why the roof and the floor of the large hall were completely renovated and all the walls restored.

The guiding principle in the rebuilding has been to retain the character of the building as much as possible,, on the one hand due to the usefulness of the spaces and, on the other, to preserve something of the past. By way of three simple breaks through walls, the routing was optimized and a line of sight from the entrance was effected, making it possible to read the outer dimensions of the building on entering it.

All additional constructions are designed as being separate from the building in order tot maintain the distinction between the existing structure and additions. Consequently, the entry area is marked by an extension framework which connects outside to inside; the actual entrance has been place outside the building. The lavatories have been shoved into the spaces like individual boxes. The reception desks are free-standing pieces of furniture, and the bookstore has also been furnished with separate components. The tone of all these facilities oriented to the public is silver grey or the natural color of steel and contrasts with the rough brick building. 

New installations, wiring and pipes have been concealed as much as possible, so that the building, as a bare structure, is able to constitute a non distractive, natural accommodation for the art. Each of the exhibition spaces has a character of its own. The corridor with the large storage vaults for wool has been sandblasted, so that the color of the red brick is dominant. In contrast to this, the smaller wool storage spaces have been finished in white and given parquet floors. In the large open area a dark, concrete floor has been poured; the existing steel structure has remained its original silver grey. The skylights have been equipped with a new glazing system of double glass filled with a white synthetic fibre. This causes the light to be filtered evenly throughout the main space, but changes in weather and seasons remain noticeable. The artificial lighting has been integrated into the skylights and can, when necessary, supplement the natural light in an inconspicuous manner. A fixture with two kinds of fluorescent lighting was chosen: one is used primarily in daylight, while the other can be added for evening openings. The new spaces in the open area have been made with free-standing walls, 365 cm in height, which remain below the fragile truss construction. Because of this, the separate rooms continue to be a part of the larger space. The walls are moreover placed in such a way that extended lines of sight are maintained and the main space is kept intact as an entity.

Benthem Crouwel Architects