For quite some time, the museum island of Hombroich and its adjacent former missile base have formed a collection of widely strewn museum architecture styles and sculptures by a wide range of artists and architects. The cooperative project between artist Thomas Schütte and Dusseldorf’s RKW architecture studio has now produced a further striking structure.
Architect: RKW Architekten
Location: Bergerweg 16, 41472 Neuss
Thomas Schütte chose this plot of land deliberately. In fact, he obtained it in a clever trade. The exhibition concept of the large area outside town consists not only of close cooperation among the individual institutions – the founders’ idea seems to embody the concept that each building should be considered an exhibit in its own right before revealing the artistic treasures housed within. As a solitaire among solitaires, located near the missile base, Hombroich and Kirkeby Field, this building, with its gracefully curved roof and oval shape, forms a pleasant contrast to the otherwise predominantly square buildings along the long path. It all started with the artist’s model, made of potato chip and matchbox. This logic led to a two-part building featuring a half-buried storage space for Schütte’s own work, which he converted into a foundation with regard to the gallery, and an open exhibition space above, which is framed with a bellying roof. The spoked-wheel construction of the roof allows complete freedom from supports and a continuity interrupted only by a deliberately placed, intimate exhibition space in the middle. The brick surface of this structure creates a link to the exterior façade and calls to mind a small shelter – a room within a room, which both delimits and sets the focus on individual pieces. In the exterior space, poplar-wood slats made durable by a thermal process hug the oval concrete body, creating the effect of fine ribbing. The horizontal strip of skylights between the jutting roof and ribbing lets in the light and gives the roof a certain lightness. Practical spaces such as the ticket office, curators’ offices and toilets are located in an adjacent side building virtually hidden under an embankment. Clad with anthracite-coloured kiln bricks, it is an element in itself. Irregularities in the brickwork at intervals break up the homogeneity of the wall, forming a lozenge pattern and enlivening the surface with light and shade. The chimney-like construction that serves as a light shaft for the office attracts visitors’ attention. The lowest level of the main hall is also hidden beneath the earth and can be accessed only via a side entrance. Its 800 m² serve as storage space for Schütte’s collection. The sculpture hall offers about 700 m² of exhibition space; with storage and associated buildings, there are around 2,000 ² in all. With a cost of around 5.6 million euros including the exterior structures, this project came in far under the budget for a traditional museum building. The sculptures on the invisible lower level, which can be read as a monument to Schütte, form the basis of the foundation and the gallery. The brainchild of his own design concept and then implemented and developed in cooperation with architects Lars Klatte and Heinrich Heinemann, this building was designed to feature the highest possible quality. This means that nearly all the materials used were tested, scrutinized and developed on site. The protracted building time that arose from this meticulousness only emphasizes the artist’s desire for quality and high-quality construction work. However, the eighteen-month building period was forcibly interrupted by archaeological work. The artist-architect duo has shown that a serious museum can be built at comparatively low cost. By concentrating on materials, spatial effects and the overall concept, they have succeeded in uniting art and architecture and made the artistic dialogue visible. Details such as the green colour of the steel betray a certain artistic influence, while the construction and detailed realization reveal the architectural intention.