The regional museum “Waterlands Museum & Speeltoren” is a museum dedicated to the history of the region just north of Amsterdam, called Waterland. The main town of the region is charming Monnickendam, and the main landmark of Monnickendam is it’s ancient belltower, the “Speeltoren“. The tower houses the oldest carillon still in use in the world, and is remarkable as both an architectural treasure and as a sound artifact, giving us an unadulterated aural window into the past. With some proud humour it is referred to as “the most out of tune carillon in the world”, but this belies the interesting fact that the bells of Monnickendam are some of the oldest bells in Europe, as they predate by far the first tuned carillons developed by the brothers Hemony in 1644. By now most belfries have been refurnished with tuned bells, hence the original carillon of the Speeltoren presents a special soundscape.

In the upper floor of the museum an exhibition space is located adjacent to the brick tower itself. It’s an exceedingly difficult space within which to display heritage objects, being under an attic-like construction with high sloping ceilings and hardly any walls. Still, this is where we —Todd van Hulzen Design and content partner Studio Louter— created the permanent exhibition: “A Beacon in Time”.

At both ends of the space we designed oversized maquette-like spaces that were to act as proxies for the actual adjacent tower, which is too dangerous to climb up in for unaccompanied visitors. They also act as housings for two delightful multimedia items. One is a model carillon keyboard with a video simulation and musical challenge. The other is a group of “telescopic” viewers, of the kind one finds on high towers, each with individual films illustrating the history of Monnickendam and Waterland as seen from above.

For the rest there is a tightly curated collection of clockworks and bells, plus a proper sit-down film, which via a fixed animated diagram on the left and documentary film on the right, illustrates the workings of the entire tower, from the automatic-player cylinders, to the clocks and chimes, to the classic glockenspiel figures that animate the upper tower at the tolling of the hour.