Museum of Modern Literature

Museum of Modern Literature, Ludwigsburg-Germany, David Chipperfield Architects
Construction year: 2006
Address: Schillerhöhe 8, 71672 Marbach am Neckar, | LUDWIGSBURG | Germany | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: 48.9351062, 9.2552983

The museum is located in Marbach s scenic park, on top of a rock plateau overlooking the valley of the Neckar River. As the birthplace of the dramatist Friedrich Schiller, the town s park already held the National Schiller Museum, built in 1903, and the Archive for German Literature, built in the 1970s. Displaying artefacts from the extensive 20th century collection from the Archive for German Literature, notably the original manuscripts of Franz Kafka s ‘The Trial’ and Alfred Döblin s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’, the museum also provides panoramic views across and over the distant landscape.

Embedded in the topography, the museum reveals different elevations depending on the viewpoint. By utilising the steep slope of the site, terraces allow for the creation of very different characters – an intimate, shaded entrance on the brow of the hill facing the National Schiller Museum with its forecourt and park, and a grander, more open series of tiered spaces facing the valley below. A pavilion-like volume is located on the highest terrace, providing the entrance to the museum. The interiors of the museum reveal themselves as one descends down through the loggia, foyer and staircase spaces, preparing the visitor for the dark timber-panelled exhibition galleries, illuminated only by artificial light due to fragility and sensitivity of the works on display. At the same time, each of these environmentally controlled spaces borders onto a naturally lit gallery, balancing views inward to the composed, internalized world of texts and manuscripts with the green and scenic valley on the other side of the glass.

A clearly defined material concept using solid materials (fair-faced concrete, sandblasted reconstituted stone with limestone aggregate, limestone, wood, felt and glass) gives the calm, rational architectural language a sensual physical presence.

Following re-unification, texts of various well-known German authors which had previously been dispersed to east and west have now been brought together in this new museum. In a suitably commemorative manner the building forms a small Acropolis attached to the National Schiller Museum on a ridge overlooking the valley of the River Neckar. The entrance sequence is brilliant. The visitor crosses an open terrace overlooking the valley, then negotiates a series of shallow steps to enter the generous portal formed in the colonnade, then enters through giant hardwood doors. A staircase descends to the collections with their required diminishing lighting levels. It is at this moment of descent that the building shows its pedigree – a sense of a progression to somewhere beyond, combined with a rich but selective palette of materials and illuminated with subdued top lighting. The route concludes in the permanent collection. Here glass cases containing original manuscripts form a magical flickering landscape. There is a particular theatricality about this space, as though the reflections, refractions and multiple shadows from the small intense lights collectively represent the soul of the German imagination.

There are many things to praise about this building – the architect s control and discrimination in the choice of materials has by now become a signature but above all it is in the handling of the ‘difficult whole’ that the building excels. The external pre-cast concrete arcading forming the entrance pavilion is also applied to the plinth on the east side. This unexpectedly produces a monumental elevation cut into the hillside, which simultaneously democratises the acropolis giving equal status to pavilion and plinth. The same measure and interval of the vertical structure is then to be found forming the soffit to the beams to the galleries inside.

Since the end of the war Germany has been sensitive to matters concerning the neo-classical in architecture. Had it been submitted a decade or two earlier it would surely have been eliminated for its formal manner. It is encouraging that with time, more even-handed attitudes have prevailed.

⇒ Architecture Guide to LUDWIGSBURG
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