The Museum of the Franco-prussian war of 1870and of the Annexio
Museum of the War of 1870 and of the Annexion in Gravelotte.
This emblematic site saw violent combat during the 1870 war before being annexed by Germany until 1918.
A historical overview
By the end of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the border between France and Germany had shifted, leaving Alsace and Moselle annexed by Germany. The surrounding landscape still carries the scars of combat. German and French commemorative monuments punctuate the fields, valleys and hilltops. Numerous crosses mark the fields to this day, and the new museum at Gravelotte is a complement to the Hall of Memory (Halle du Souvenir), erected by the Germans in 1905.
Monolithic, the Museum of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Annexation sits quietly in the village of Gravelotte, but is powerfully distinguished by its choice of material, affirming its identity and setting it apart from its surroundings.
Clad in patinated metal, the building marries a simple form in plan with irregular rooflines. The roof folds along east-west axes, creating a game of slopes and fragmenting the volume, which establishes a dialogue with the neighbouring houses and agricultural warehouses while avoiding imitation. These folds, steps in the roof like steel blades, are gashed with glazed openings to capture the north light.
Seldom giving on to the neighbouring houses, the building looks towards the distant horizon of fields, the former battlefields.
The architectural language of the museum expresses various sentiments linked to war: tension (the lowering steel block), tearing apart (cut-outs of the entrance facade), fracture (the shape of the entrance hall), destruction (lacerations in the roof) – but also peace and hope (broad, calm views over the surrounding countryside).
The light coming through the irregular saw-tooth roof illuminates a central double-height entrance hall space, in such a way that it feels neither interior nor exterior.
Beyond the reception, the different areas of the museum are all accessed via the hall: exhibition galleries, conference hall, educational area, etc.
This focal point of the building is a “lively” space, animated by the circulation of visitors at different levels, and giving glimpses of the exhibits.
It is also a dramatic space, whose dark, irregular walls and lacerated roof are an architectural interpretation of what is represented by war: fracture, destruction, and burnt-out buildings whose blackened timbers jut out against the sky.
The huge panels of patinated metal that form the hall’s walls are the same as those used on the facades. This provides the building with a powerful identity, coherence and sculptural character.
The choice of metal is not innocent, it is the material of weapons, shells, canons. And the patina, the oxidisation, evoke the passage of time since these events occurred.
Visitors approach the museum from the car park via a small German cemetery.
The facade of the museum gradually appears through trees and the lines of crosses.
From the exterior, the hall is seen as an opening, an invitation.
The entrance reveals an 8m-high space, attracting and preparing the visitor.
Two flights of stairs very gently slope up to the permanent exhibition gallery, providing a cinematic journey through the hall space.
Upstairs, the exhibition spaces are all on one level. The ceiling height varies from 3m to 5m according to the slopes in the roof and the exhibition content. Occasional views outside punctuate the visit. These are framed to help the visitor situate themself within the building, and to take a break.
The spaces are carefully detailed, but the materials are left raw. Both walls and floor are in bare concrete, with text and visuals directly applied. On the ceilings the metal structure, air vents and insulation are left visible.
Following the period of combat and then annexation, the permanent exhibition concludes with coverage of Franco-German reconciliation.
A footbridge crosses the far end of the hall, leading to the exit and offering quiet views over the countryside.