Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Science Center Nemo's Rooftop Terrace

The stairs up to the Nemo terrace
A Bird's Eye View
A long staircase directs the visitor up twenty-two meters to the Science Center Nemo's sloping rooftop terrace, offering a beautiful bird's-eye view of Amsterdam and the Ij River. The terrace consists of broad, slowly ascending steps that lead up to the museum café, which is situated at the back. The ascent is a progression---upwards, of course, but also a progression in sights and sounds.  

The Progression of Sights and Sounds 
After climbing up the long stairway and setting foot on the terrance, you are greeted by a cluster of white park benches and groups of tall Miscanthus plants in gray, six by three foot rectangular pots. The first ten steps leads to the base of a waterfall fountain that elegantly hugs the terrace steps like a river. A few more steps and you see a dozen scattered reclining park chairs painted in pastel green and milky-white. A few brightly-clothed visitors are relaxing and enjoying the view as pigeons aggressively peck at bread crumbs and fend off one another with surprising hostility.

Take twenty more steps and you finds yourself nearly at the top of the terrace. As you move upwards, the sights and sounds grow in diversity: the benches and potted plants at the base of the terrace are also here at the top, but they are now interspersed with other colorful playthings. Children gather around two life-sized "Connect Four" game sets that pops out of the scenery with their bright red and blue plastic frames.  There are four table displays featuring different puzzles and brain teasers including "Tanagram" and "Summing Squares." The very top of the terrance, where the café seating begins features a beautiful life-sized chess board with two-foot tall chess pieces. The tranquility at the base of the terrace transitions into the gleeful shouts of children and lively chatter from within the café.

There were a few games on the terrace for children to play with

Yearning For More Color
The Nemo rooftop is very peaceful and has similar qualities to a park square, spacious and speckled with seating areas and greenery. The terrace's large expanse of gray concrete is reminiscent of the gray cobblestones of Dam Square or Rembrantplein. The spaciousness welcomes people to occupy the area and bring it to life. However, the difference is that the Nemo rooftop has far fewer visitors than Dam Square. While the squares and parks of Amsterdam are often bustling with visitors and vivified by street performers, the Nemo is fairly empty---no more than forty adults and children played, wandered, and relaxed on this terrace at a time. For the two hours I was here, enjoying the view and making observations, I noted that most visitors who came to the Nemo rooftop only wandered around for about five minutes---a few girlfriends posing as their boyfriends took photos of them by the waterfall fountain---before leaving. Granted, I visited the rooftop on a cloudy day after a morning of light rain; it is very possible that the Nemo terrace is revitalized on sunny days when the sun beckons visitors climb up the Nemo's stairway to come closer to the sun.

Lots of concrete steps, dotted with some color in the distance

Overall, this creates an ambiance that is peaceful, but one that still feels oddly barren. The rare few bright red children's playthings (e.g. the "Connect Four" game) popped out from the plain concrete steps and is a reminder of how empty the rest of the terrace is. The game reminds the visitor that there could be more color. The potted plants remind the visitor that there wasn't enough greenery, and gives the terrace a moody-gray and lackluster vibe. The empty reclining chairs and picnic benches reminded the visitor that there aren't enough people on the rooftop to create a lively atmosphere. The scene is reminiscent of a big city, such as New York, where the "Connect Four" games are metaphors for the bright and out-of-place city playgrounds that are wedged within a menacingly dominant concrete jungle of skyscrapers. 

The beautiful green facade of the Science Center Nemo

Jade Green Versus Muddy-Brown and Gray
A science center with such gorgeous jade-green exterior of curved walls sets expectations for a similar abundance of lush green plants of on the rooftop. As such, the brown-yellow Miscanthus plants and the gray concrete created a muddy ambiance that generated a small feeling of disappointment. The sloping step-wise architecture combined with the waterfall fountain is pleasant, but the space needs more color. Perhaps the steps could be painted an array of colors, or mosaics could be installed on the ground. Perhaps the garden landscapers could add more plants and flowers. The possibilities are endless and some changes are very simple: the benches and chairs could be painted bright colors instead of their current lifeless white and bland pale-green. Pale, pastel colors aren't always a negative trait, but it simply doesn't match the colorful plastic children's games. As it is, the colorful "Connect Four" simply sticks out like a sore thumb, reminding visitors of the other colors that are lacking. 

Lackluster chairs

A Discovery
While the bland concrete of the terrace is uninspiring, the two hours I spend there gives me time to really engage my senses. I notice the ambient sound all around me. Sitting at a picnic bench, I hear the rushing of cars from the highway below, the shouts of children as they played games, the murmuring of tourists, the cooing of pigeons, the gurgling of the fountain, the bouncing of plastic boys, and the gentle flapping of Nemo's colorful flags. The intermingling of these sounds create an ideal atmosphere for work (the studious, take note!) There was a richness in sound that was subtle, but gave life to the terrace despite the lack of a crowd and the lack of interesting visual elements. Although there is certainly room for improvement, the Nemo rooftop terrace is still an enjoyable, relaxing place to work or simply sip a cup of tea, while drinking in the views of the city. 

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