Architects: David Chipperfield Architects
With its restrained internal atmosphere, the new Museum Folkwang by David Chipperfield Architects forms a stark contrast to the Ruhr Museum.
The main external design element is the pale-green facade in vitreous-ceramic, a relatively new material that was used here for the first time on such a scale. It lends the strict volumes of the complex a certain lightness, an almost ethereal quality, and its translucent character responds to many different lighting moods.
One of the outstanding attributes of the design, though, is its integrative urban planning.
From the existing building dating from 1960, Chipperfield has adopted the principle of accommodating the works of art in a series of spaces sensitively grouped about internal courtyards.
He has opened the complex to the city in various ways: by reorganizing the lines of access and by creating numerous visual links via the fenestration and the walkways along the courtyards.
A further strength of the design lies in its varied exploitation of daylight through light-diffusing ceilings and vertical areas of glazing in the museum. The development is typical of Chipperfield’s oeuvre. Unspectacular in a positive sense is the architect’s avoidance of the strident gestures so commonly found in buildings for the arts and culture today.
The architecture does not push itself to the fore, but forms a neutral enclosure that affords the works of art the space they need to reveal themselves to best effect.
One of the other strengths that normally distinguish Chipperfield’s architecture, however, suffers from the restraint exercised here: namely his usually sensitive treatment of materials and construction. In the Essen museum, the details in particular are sometimes too bland and insubstantial, so that, despite its functional and spatial qualities, the work as a whole has a certain sterility. This is possibly the result of tight time and cost constraints, as only two and a half years were allowed for the design and implementation of the scheme.