Architect sues Leiden museum on copyright charge

The Naturalis museum in Leiden (Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons)The Naturalis museum in Leiden (Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons)

Architect Fons Verheijen is planning legal action against the Naturalis Museum in Leiden, whose exhibition space building he designed. He argues that the museum is violating Dutch copyright laws by transforming the exhibition space into a storage facility and office space.

"They're mutilating the building," Verheijen told NL Times. "Somebody who creates art cannot have their work mutilated. Transforming my exhibition space into a storage space is mutilation.”

According to Verheijen, copyright law recognizes the relationship between creators and their products, and he feels that the Naturalis exhibition space is his creation. Invoking that aspect of Dutch copyright law, he plans to begin legal proceedings against the museum in April. His aim is to force the museum to scrap its current plans.

The Naturalis Museum’s move to integrate pieces from the Zoological Museum Amsterdam and the National Herbarium of the Netherlands into its collection created the need for additional storage and office space, both the museum and Verheijen agree. To accommodate those needs, the Naturalis plans to transform its current exhibition space, and then create a new exhibition space inside a newly-built building. Rotterdam architecture firm Neutelings-Riedijk won the bid to create the new space.

"My building is of a high architectural quality; it should not be used for storage," Verheijen said. He insists that the existing exhibition space should be maintained and recommends the museum instead build an extension onto the current space for the office and storage requirements. "I'm not against another architect designing that," he noted.

Architect Michiel Riedijk understands Verheijen’s disappointment. “But a client always has the right to make modifications to a building. Our work is a product and not an autonomous work of art, such as a painting. We are articulating his design rather than inflicting an injustice to it,” he said in an article in de Volkskrant.

Verheijen is confident that he will succeed in legal proceedings. "I think I'll win," he said. "No one can change what I've made." The architect will also argue that the planned project contradicts the law because it wastes public funds. According to Verheijen, the current plans require 20 million euros in public funding, an amount he believes could be significantly lowered if the current exhibition space is maintained.

A Naturalis spokesperson expressed pride and excitement about the construction of the new exhibition space. The museum’s management did not respond to requests for comment on the legal proceedings at the time of publication.