In 2011, the construction works of the extension to the Modern Gallery, a ensemble of pavilions by the architect Hanns Schönecker from the 1960s, had come to a halt. Tow years later, a call for new concepts was held, and the project was awarded to Kuehn Malvezzi. Working with artist Michael Riedel, the architects presented an approach to reconceiving the Modern Gallery that didn’t try to negate the building’s challenging political prehistory, but instead took it as a point of departure for the design. This reconception focused on the museum’s relationship to public space, in terms of both the museum’s physical surroundings (its relation to open spaces in the city and the Saar River nearby), as well as in terms of the political public—its relation to clients and users of the facility.
The collaborative work by Kuehn Malvezzi and Michael Riedel, with the support of bbz Landschafts- architekten, interweaves interior and exterior space, square and facade, by unifying architecture and art. The design is a sculptural installation that employs writing as a vessel of form, generating a new way to read the location. Recordings of the parliamentary debate from 22 April 2015 on whether to implement the plan by Kuehn Malvezzi and Michael Riedel are translated into typeface, which is then clad over the square and parts of the facade. The transcription doesn’t reproduce the names of the speakers, however the word “museum” is highlighted whenever it comes up in the course of the recording. This work thus follows a methodology that Michael Riedel has applied to a variety of situations—a methodology of recurrence that focuses on the recording and reproduction of an event.
The new museum square is situated in the museum’s expanded sculpture garden as an “island of script”—it adopts the figure–ground relationship established by the Schönecker pavilions, and conveys it over to the newly mounted panel surfaces. Wherever these surfaces meet the new structure, they fold upward, making the square become part of the facade. These ashlar panels follow the basic 4x4-meter grid defined by Schönecker, and their text was stenciled on after the panels were installed on site. In those places where the new structure isn’t covered by panels, the surfaces are rendered with a thick, earth-colored, mineral plaster, applied manually to achieve a sculptural structure.
The intervention functions to spatially recalibrate the relationship between old and new. The historical entrance to Hanns Schönecker’s foyer pavilion is updated and returned to the center of the overall complex. The new square stretching out on the west side creates an intermediary space that enmeshes the old building with the new structure. The pathway leading toward the museum’s central entrance from Saarbrücken’s nearby historic center and the banks of the Saar, in its interplay with the neighboring Saar University of Music, creates a square-like urban space between the buildings. The atrium of the new structure, formerly conceived as an entrance, is elevated to become a 14-meter-high central exhibition hall, visible from every floor via different sight lines.
The continuous circulation path of the museum winds upward around this hall. Thanks to the different sizes and proportions of the rooms, it is possible to host specific individual exhibitions, either separate from one another or in combination. The lighting, electricity, and ventilation services are left exposed as a white installation in the ceiling space; finishing work is centered on the white exhibition walls and the seamless gray bitu-terrazzo used throughout the building. Careful window placement serves to merge the interior space with its surrounding environment and the silhouette of the city beyond.