Department Store Building Turned into a New Dutch Mining Museum by Tinker imagineers

The building of the once-famous Kneepkens department store in Heerlen, in the south of the Netherlands, accommodates the new Dutch Mining Museum, which opened to the public on May 1st, 2022. In collaboration with the museum board, Tinker imagineers developed an innovative museum concept where visitors can imagine themselves in the department store of yesteryear and go ‘shopping’. The exhibition tells the unique story of the rise, the glory days, and the decline of coal mining in South Limburg, and of its impact on society. With this new museum, a part of history that has long been kept hidden finally sees the light of day.


Photo credit: Mike Bink

Exhibition Outline

The Dutch Mining Museum shows all facets of the colourful mining past, beginning with coal, and describes the broad history of mining in the region. The visitor experiences the forgotten stories of the arduous work, the successes, the solidarity, and the dark side of this exhaustive industry. The four floors each have their own colour-based themes. Visitors start at Black, where they explore the story of coal and the miner.


Photo credit: Mike Bink


Photo credit: Mike Bink

The second floor, Gold, almost tangibly reflects the prosperity brought to the Mining Area by the coal industry. The third floor is Grey and shows the frightening flipside of the mining industry, such as the unhealthy working conditions and the disastrous social consequences of the mine closure. Finally, the top floor is called Colour. Here, the visitor is introduced to the transition and colourful future of the Mining Region.


Photo credit: Mike Bink


Photo credit: Mike Bink

The old Kneepkens department store

The presentation of the objects is based on the original function of the monumental location: Kneepkens department store on Doctor Poelsstraat 29 in the inner city. The location makes sense when you take into account that, in the heyday of coal mining (the mid-1950s), Heerlen had the largest concentration of department stores in the Netherlands. With a thriving mining industry, there were many miners with money to spend, and this department store was built both for them, and thanks to them. Few remember that the earth’s crust under this building, this city, this region used to house the largest industrial estate in the Netherlands. The 1939 listed building by the renowned architect Frits Peutz is also called the ‘Little Glass Palace’ due to its similarities with the famous Glass Palace he designed earlier.


Photo credit: Mike Bink

At the present location of the Dutch Mining Museum, the shaft and pithead building of the Oranje-Nassau I mine is temporarily closed, but remains part of the museum.


Photo credit: Mike Bink


The exhibition design is the work of Tinker imagineers, in collaboration with Peter Beckers. The museum was realised by local parties. The result is not a museum in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the focus is on the many stories from a past that reaches far beyond the city and the region.


Photo credit: Mike Bink


Photo credit: Mike Bink

About Tinker imagineers

Tinker imagineers is an immersive experience design agency bringing ideas to life in exhibitions, visitor centres, and multi-media theatres around the world. They serve a wide range of clients, particularly in European countries such including Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. The studio was founded in 1991 and is located in Utrecht, the Netherlands. 

Tinker imagineers take on research, project development, design, AV, and multimedia projects, as well as production. In 2018, founders Erik Bär and Stan Boshouwers published their vision in a book on immersive experience design, which they see as the art of creating spaces that tell a story. The book, called Worlds of Wonder - experience design for curious people, describes the What, the Why, and the How of this exciting way of communication.