The Museum Folkwang, founded in Hagen by Karl Ernst Osthaus in 1902, was Europe’s first museum of contemporary art. The most significant works were transferred from Hagen to Essen in 1922, and today it is one of Germany’s highest-profile museums. The opening of its new building was among the most important cultural events to be held in Essen and the Ruhr region during their time as European Capital of Culture 2010.
The existing museum building consisted of two parts: one built in the 1950s and a later addition that opened in 1983, though this was removed in 2007 as it did not provide sufficient exhibition space and failed to meet current standards for museum buildings. The strengths of the old wing were threefold: single-level exhibition spaces; the arrangement of these spaces around two interior courtyards of different character; and the generous size of the windows that served to bring together the galleries and the city.
The new structure complements the listed 1950s building and preserves its integrity. Its architectural principles – rooms and galleries arranged around courtyards – are retained and developed in the new addition, which is an ensemble of six volumes and four inner courtyards linked by gardens and arcades. The new publicly accessible areas connect seamlessly with the existing exhibition spaces. The main and public entrance faces Essen’s city centre and a generous open stairway leads from Bismarckstraße into the new foyer, an open interior courtyard with a restaurant and a bookshop.
The foyer opens onto a succession of rooms: exhibition areas with ceiling heights of up to six metres, a library and reading room, a multi-functional room and an events space. Storage areas and restoration workshops are accessible to staff and invited guests. Together with the neighbouring Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, the extended Museum Folkwang creates a new civic space on the edge of the city centre.
The translucent alabaster-like façade is made of large rectangular recycled glass slabs, its colour shifting with the changing natural light. Clear glass windows sit flush with the façade. Inside, polished screed floors similar in tone and texture to the concrete plinth create a sense of solidity and continuity. The adoption of the old wing’s ground-floor level in the new extension made it possible to create a ‘horizontal’ museum and preserve the qualities of the 1950s building.
The temporary exhibition space is capped with a north-facing saw-tooth roof allowing diffused and variable illumination. A continuous grid runs across this vast space, forming part of the steel roof construction and providing a system for placing multiple partitions. This allows for a flexible reorganisation of the space to cater for a wide variety of exhibitions and curatorial approaches.
Photo credits: Christian Richters, Ute Zscharnt.