In an effort to more closely connect the city of Amsterdam with its legendary football team, Ajax, the AFC Ajax Football Club enlisted Sid Lee Architecture to create its new Ajax Experience.
Centrally located in the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square), the new museum, full of vivid colors and interactive exhibits, works to tell the long and illustrious story of the century-old team.
In order to do so effectively while keeping the experience challenging for the biggest fans and comprehensible for all ages, Sid Lee’s design emphasizes not only the team’s on-field accomplishments (of which there are many), but also the process of finding, recruiting and training star athletes. Translating this message meant focusing more on the technical side of the team rather than the emotional side, according to Jean Pelland, architect and senior partner at Sid Lee Architecture.
“We wanted to create an experience that looks at the past as well as the future,” he says. “We also wanted to create a certain level of energy and a positive message about Ajax, and tell the story from within as to what’s special about them. We took historical facts and created a tapestry with all of these great moments. Your first contact with the team is a timeline that shows highlights through over 100 years of existence. As you walk through the museum, you are channeled through a series of exhibits or exercises that focus on the way this team builds great players.”
Formerly located in the team’s home stadium, half an hour away from the city center, the new Ajax Experience is housed inside a spacious, multi-use building called The Bank, which also includes retail and office spaces. The museum itself sits on two levels: the lower public level, which features the main entrance and faceted timeline wall, and the upper level, which houses the majority of the exhibits and interactive features.
Sid Lee Architecture, which is based in Montreal with offices in Amsterdam, worked closely with the Amsterdam-based designers at Fiction Factory to develop the interiors of the space. “The level of craftsmanship in Holland is unbelievable,” says Pelland. “The country is really focused on design and architecture. The team at Fiction Factory work with aluminum, wood and upholstery, so it was very easy for us to work with them. It was almost like going back to the time when architects had craftsmen available to them who could do almost everything.”
Numerous prototypes were created to perfect the concept from interior design, graphic design and architectural standpoints, as well as to develop the technology for interactive displays and to define physical spaces where exercises could take place. The final concept features a combination of epoxy flooring surfaces in areas with natural light, contrasted with carpeted floors in darker areas. Lighting is used to create emphasis via sharp contrasts; gradient lighting in interactive areas bumps up against bright and natural light in the public areas.
“There is an expression, mise en lumiere, which means ‘putting things into light,’” Pelland explains. “So it’s more about the effect rather than the fixture. Rather than full-on lighting, it’s highs and lows as people move from one space to another. We used very defined lighting strategies.”
The museum has been divided into seven steps that form the complete Ajax experience. Organized sequentially, they tell the team’s story, from how young talent is discovered, recruited and trained (“Building Giants”), to training field activities, the locker room, the stadium and the team’s global outreach. And although the design team segmented the Experience into distinct steps, the space was intended to allow for absolute flexibility in touring, Pelland says.
“People can walk around freely and read the material or go from one exercise to the other. It’s not linear,” he explains. “You can read content and watch videos, but it’s very much a family outing. Football is a family sport and a lot of people go there with their kids, so we couldn’t create a typical museum with a structured path. It’s a mix between content and experience. The adults enjoy the content, and both parents and kids benefit from the interactive experiences, which are simple so that young children can understand how to work them.”
Sid Lee Architecture collaborated with gsmprjct°, a Montreal-based company that specializes in technology and visual design, to create the museum’s interactive experiences. The resulting exhibits are both old school and cutting-edge, presenting the Ajax story and the team’s TIPS training methodology (technique, insight, personality and speed) through hands-on exploration. Exercises allow museum visitors to practice game skills and target routines, supplemented by videos of football players explaining how to better one’s game. “It’s a trial and error concept for specific training,” says Pelland. “It’s something anyone can enjoy. We didn’t want to bore people with details. We wanted to make it a fun venue.”
Extensive archives of photographs and memorabilia were sorted through and organized chronologically for displays, wall images and educational exhibits. The endeavor was quite a challenge, according to Pelland, as it required finding exact pieces—for instance, players photographed in specific field positions—in order to tell the team’s story in a cohesive timeline. Newspaper articles, photographs and digital files provided sources of content and information. Sid Lee’s graphic designers scanned, pixilated and manipulated the images accordingly to create the bold montage that covers the walls of the public area and stairway to the interactive floor.
The team’s trademark colors also played a significant role in design and branding, as well as in strengthening the connection between Ajax and the city. “The colors the players wear on the field are part of their pride, so we committed to working
with those colors,” says Pelland. “Ajax has a strong identity, but we wanted to create something unique for the Experience, so it was about choosing specific
aspects that we could use as references. For instance, Ajax has projected itself into the future with its logos, banners and visual contact points. We wanted the Experience to be about their future, but at the same time reminiscent of the past, so we used a lot of black-and-white photography and worked with the colors and graphics to add a certain amount of soul to the project.”
Pelland’s design technique has been described as “poetic architecture,” and his sensory approach to spaces is clearly present in the Ajax Experience. “Architecture serves the purpose of creating an experience for people; it’s not solely creating space for the sake of our own perception. It has to be about the experience that people live when they are in there. In the Ajax Experience, for example, there’s this crescendo that happens when you go through the different venues that we’ve created. The poetic side is taking things to another level, in terms of how you bring emotions up as you progress into the space so that it’s not just a linear process, but also something that moves up and down until it gets to the highest point possible. This is something that we wanted to really have in the Experience, so that it’s not just a place for people to go—it’s something that they can feel.”
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