Controversial and an eyesore for many: Forum Groningen. It has occupied minds considerably over the past few years. On Friday 29 November, the cultural centre in Groningen was finally opened to the general public. Interest in Forum is certainly there, as the counter already stood at 50,000 visitors on Tuesday morning.
The prestige project that has cost the Groninger quite a few tax cents is, as we now say, 'hot and trending'. Forum Groningen presents itself as a cultural centre for everyone: low-threshold. The question is whether the average Groninger, the one who is not impressed by the technical gadgets, can and will actually use it. The building is overwhelming and the 'elitist' elements may deter people from visiting.
Impressive or intimidating.
Negative comments on Forum is immediately punished on social media, as such a (visual) masterpiece can and should only be applauded. During the press preview, I was very impressed. This does not mean I blindly ignore the lesser points. Ten storeys high. Immense. Forum is spacious and light, but it doesn't feel clinical.
What first caught my eye were the huge escalators. These reminded me of the moving staircases in Harry Potter's Hogwarts. The longest escalator mentally transported me to London's busy 'underground'. There was also one that was so enormously steep that it felt like I was being transported backwards to the top. People with vertigo will not be happy about this. So take the lift.
For 'tech' lovers and children, it is heaven on earth: there is a SmartLab (learning about new technologies), Storyworld (museum of comics, animation and games) and a Medialab with a 'green screen' where you can learn and experience everything around the creative process of visual culture. There are also spaces for exhibitions. In short, there is plenty to see and do. Progressive and innovative, as the city of Groningen likes to profile itself. For those not keen on technical gadgets, in terms of entertainment, there is a library and cinema.
Mysterious and inviting.
The cinema halls are spacious, but not too big. So you keep a sense of intimacy. The décor is nice, but not distracting. It does offer the option, should you get bored during a arthouse film, to find out how many blocks the venue has. According to director Dirk Nijdam, Forum is "no Pathé". He is not a fan of the cinema chain. What I do think is a plus is that the seats are comfortable, there is plenty of legroom and there is a cup holder attached to your own armrest.
Besides four regular theatres, there is also a small, fancy cinema room. This has been a hit with all the Forum visitors I have spoken to so far. It can accommodate 31 people, has leather 'loveseats' among other things and is of course equipped with a bar. Should you wish to hire the space? You can. The atmosphere reminded me of the Common Room at Trinity College in Dublin. The same 'British' ambiance could also be found in a space I can best describe as a ' gentlemen's club'. A pool table, beautiful leather furniture, stuffed crow and a decanter of spirits. Next to it, I spotted a Cluedo board game. Mysterious, warm and vintage. Delightful. So ladies, grab a cue and a glass of whisky and live it up!
Wandering around the library among all the books and then coming home with titles you didn't know you were looking for. I have loved the library since childhood. So far, I am not happy with the new set-up in Forum. The various categories are on (too many) different floors. Not wandering around, but getting lost. A woman I spoke to at the opening indicated that perhaps they had set this up to make people familiar and familiar with the building. That it would be rearranged more practically in a few years' time. I don't share her hope.
Powerful and beautiful.
There is a wide range of study places. Some with such an impressive view of the city of Groningen that you might start to wonder whether the students will get around to studying. The seats are also accessible to people who, with a cup of coffee or tea, want to indulge in the grand Groningen panorama. By the way, it is no problem if you bring your own thermos jug of coffee or tea. Of course, visitors can also visit Forum for refreshments: the building houses a STACH café and the NOK restaurant.
Unfortunately, I cannot yet pass judgement on the quality of the food and drink. However, the view from NOK is almighty gorgeous. Furthermore, the accompanying roof terrace also functions as a rooftop cinema. I have already found out, though, that it is not wise to visit the terrace when it has been freezing; the slippery stones can lead to dangerous falls.
Before the opening, there was a lot of comment on Forum. Still are, by the way. To name just a few: "Pollution of the Old Town," "Millions for a building you can't even see properly" and not to mention, " The Pimple". Personally, I think the exterior looks like an alien version of an Egyptian pyramid.
After the press preview, I wondered whether the average Groninger will feel a connection with Forum, which does have an elitist feel to it. A journalist who also attended the opening wondered the same thing. Lowly? I have yet to see it. Right now, a library visit is more like a kind of expedition. Normally, I would spontaneously stop by to browse among the books, but not now. I caught myself not feeling like looking for my favourite sections. All those floors. Pity.
Beauty is not always practical.
For Forum, in some cases, outward appearance has been chosen over user-friendliness. An acquaintance I spoke to mentioned that her son almost hit his head at the top escalator, because a wall suddenly pops up. She also regretted that there is no longer a book box on the outside and that reservations are "somewhere in a damn corner". Nationally and internationally, Forum Groningen will certainly score: it is innovative, progressive and a visual and architectural masterpiece. It is an asset, that much is clear, but for whom?
A visit to Forum Groningen has now actually become a compulsory number. Love it or hate it, it is a building you must have seen. Only then can you judge it.