Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum
The Berlin architectural office Kuehn Malvezzi has produced a new design for the collection and visitor areas of the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Braunschweig.
With its historical collection, the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum not only preserves individual objects but also differentiated approaches to collecting, as if in a time capsule. The origins of this museum lie in the aristocratic Kunstkammer tradition. As a model of the world, as a comprehensive collection and representation of available knowledge, the Kunstkammer marks the inception of an encyclopedic knowledge system. Natural history exhibits, artifacts, art and crafts were spatially combined into a microcosm, which was understood as a representation of the macrocosm and articulated a claim over it. The predecessor of today's museum arose from the consolidation of various ducal collections and opened as a late variant of the Kunstkammer. In 1754, one year after the inauguration of the British Museum in London, the museum opened as the Herzogliches Kunst- und Naturalienkabinett (Ducal Cabinet of Art and Natural History) at Burg Dankwarderode.
The construction of a new building by Oskar Sommer, a student of Gottfried Semper who had a decade earlier built the Städelsche Kunstinstitut (Städel Art Institute) in Frankfurt am Main, marked an important breakthrough in the transition from a Kunstkammer to a bourgeois museum. With the differentiation of the individual scientific disciplines, new categories were established in the collections. The claim to universality was superseded by subdivision into special collections as the expression of a canonization of knowledge. The natural history exhibits, for example, were removed from the existing collection and transferred to the Natural History Museum. Oskar Sommer’s classicist building was instigated by the then director of the museum Herman Riegel as a tailor-made building for the parts of the collection for which he was responsible. The museum building was groundbreaking, both in terms of its technical facilities and with its interior structure featuring rooms with overhead natural light in the central axis of the first floor for the picture gallery, with double-height cabinets arranged around.
Kuehn Malvezzi’s new presentation of the collection and visitor areas begins with the activation of Oskar Sommer’s symmetry and axis-based structure. Later fixtures to the original building were removed in order to make it possible to experience the original spatial forms and sequences in their clarity. The new museological concept intentionally reinforces the characteristics of the historical building and at the same time creates a contemporary perspective on the collection and its presentation, which is based on current art-historical and conservation expertise as well as current viewing habits. The various collections such as the as the collection of prints and drawings, picture gallery, applied art, numismatic collection, sculptures and non-European art, though diverse in both content and form, are presented on an equal footing, which highlights how complex the development of the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum has historically been.
Layers of Color
The architectural-museological concept begins with a new color concept which combines existing color elements with new additions. The new color concept unites historical doors, updated dado areas and new fixtures with warm-neutral gray NCS S 5005-Y20R and forms a continuous reference for the entire museum. In addition to this, specific material and color scales have been developed for each part of the collection, which complement the warm-neutral concept. They open up a separate color space for each exhibit and collection, provoking new contextualization. The reactivation of historical colors and materials opens up a new perspective on the history of the building in relation to the new levels of color.
Museum in a Museum
The first exhibition hall on the ground floor is the museum of the museum itself. In a reflective examination of the history of the collection and its display, the history gallery presents the historical phases of collecting and exhibiting chronologically since the 16th century. Architectural models show the historical sites of the collection, while original display cases visualize the historical presentation forms found in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum. The museum in a museum concept is continued in the adjacent hall of the collection of prints and drawings in the form of specially developed new showcases. The clarity of these showcases provides a new, intensified visual experience. The display case height, viewing distance, angle of the presentation surface and the oppositely angled glass panes, the height of the object holder and the position of the integrated, glare-free lighting were developed in test series on the 1:1 model. The vitrines serve as showcases of one of the most important collections of prints and drawings in Europe, with works by Rembrandt, Dürer, Goya and Picasso among others in addition to contemporary art, as this part of the collection is the only one to have a Post-Baroque continuation.
The spatial model of the gallery was established in 1817 by John Soane in the Dulwich Picture Gallery by a fundamental reinterpretation of the historical Galleria. By transforming the lateral corridor of the Florentine Uffizi into the central enfilade of large rooms lit with skylights, Soane creates the model of a typological series of 19th-century museum buildings, in which the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum occupies a central role. The intensive zenithal light connects the plein air and interior to the idea of the museum as an academy and a ‘school of seeing’. The gallery at the Piano Nobile is the central location of the entire building, dividing the knowledge into schools relating to one another. New fabric coverings in strong new colors give the historical concept an up-to-date appearance and create a presentation of the collection of paintings that actively links the works with the space. The colors of the new wall coverings are more powerful than their classic predecessors and have been carefully developed in conjunction with the exhibits. The color and light mood of the individual rooms varies from a warm, rich red to a cool dark blue, creating a rhythm of perception which gives the outstanding works such as Rembrandt's Braunschweig Family Portrait and Rubens’ Judith beheading Holofernes a new presence, by inscribing a contemporary layer into the historical space.
Objects and Sculptures
In the microcosm of the Wunderkammer numerous individual objects of different disciplines have been configured into complex and individual room installations. The redesign of the collection of applied art and sculptures follows this principle in that every cabinet on the second floor is based on an overall architectural concept within a route through the museum. Contrary to the historical predecessors, however, the objects of the collection were not restructured by the curators according to the aesthetic criteria of a collector's personality, but based on contemporary questions. Kuehn Malvezzi has developed a total of four specific spatial typologies. The free standing pedestals present individual exhibits in the rooms of the museum and create precise interrelationships. The three corner rooms of the route are designed as case rooms. The exhibition architecture here decks out the room in its entire height, making it a space inside a space. At this point the room acts as an object itself, stronger than any individual exhibit. The glass spaces create another typology. Room-defining fixtures and stand-alone showcases are made entirely of glass, which is color-coated at the rear and presents the view of the individual exhibits with great precision. A fourth and final room type works with the existing historical display cases, remolding them in accordance with current restoration demands. The individual room types enable a new focus on the respective themes and exhibits in the interplay with strong colors, ranging from purple (Schatzkammer) to light yellow (dining culture) to celeste (faith and education).
The museum tour begins upon entering the generous west foyer. All the built-in elements, such as ticket desk and benches, feature the warm-neutral gray tone, while the original colors have been reconstructed for the walls. In doing so, the current furnishings present the museum as an exhibit itself. New access to the second floor aims to make the different strategies more visible, the result of which is the collection in its present form. The sculpture and applied art collections are now connected directly and step-free to the foyer by a new elevator, making access equal to that of the picture gallery and hence a much stronger presence. From the foyer, the path leads to the newly designed rooms for the special exhibitions on the ground floor and also to the east foyer, which serves as an event space. The newly furnished museum shop joins the foyer with the park.
The new guidance and information system was developed in cooperation with the Berlin agency Double Standards. In relation to the historical architecture of the museum, the guidance and information system also takes the form of a contemporary element and vision, with the titles and headings also following the idea of flowing text. This shows a museum understanding which allows the feudal background of the collection as well as the canonical presentation character of the architecture to be carefully experienced and at the same time to bring a level of information into the rooms which, like the new displays, actively contribute to the evolving understanding of the museum in the context of today’s society.