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Herzog & de Meuron, Museum, Duisburg

Storage instead of Lantern: Museum Expansion by Herzog & de Meuron in Duisburg

“Unfortunately, that didn’t work out”, is museum director Walter Smerling’s dry comment when asked about the first attempt to expand the Museum Küppersmühle (MKM). Back then, Herzog & de Meuron intended to erect a huge, steel cube skeleton covered with printed foils onto the steel silos of the former grain mill. By night, this would have functioned as a hardly unobtrusive neon advertising sign for the targeted main sponsor.

Gone and forgotten: the steel skeleton was badly welded, the steelwork company went broke and the local housing association put a stop to the project. Luckily for the museum and culture in the Ruhr Valley, the museum was purchased in its entirety by the Ströhers, a couple whose collection devoted to German postwar art forms the ground floor of the MKM’s inventory. They decided to continue working with Herzog & de Meuron.

Now, instead of the rooftop addition, a three-part new construction is arising on the other side of the silos, at the very eastern end of Duisburg’s inner harbour. It has 5,000 m² of total area, of which 2,500 m² are to be used as exhibition space. When the extension has been completed in 2019, the MKM will have twice as much presentation space for its collection as it did before. The four storeys of the new construction will offer collection rooms that can be flexibly used and divided, as well as areas for handling the works of art.

The skylight hall is sure to be a spatial highlight; its sawtooth contours on the building can be read from outside as well as from within the building. It represents a late, yet fitting rejoinder to the rather fortress-like overall composition of the existing structure, which was built as a grain mill at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The addition will be accessed via a stairway whose aesthetics will be similar to those of the staircase of wine-coloured exposed concrete completed by Herzog & de Meuron in 1999 as part of their restoration of the main building. Bridges on the first and second upper storeys respectively will form the connection between old and new; these bridges will lead through the steel silos from the 1930s. In anticipation, the silos will be painstakingly gutted so that they can be experienced in their entire height. Walter Smerling would like art to be exhibited here as well. What will be shown in the silos has yet to be determined. At the top of the silos, an observation platform that is accessible to passers-by as well as visitors has been planned. A panoramic view instead of advertising slogans – not a bad ending to a long renovation odyssey.

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