Bauhaus Museum Dessau is a building within a building, a soaring concrete block enveloped in glass. At the end of 2015 the proposal from Barcelona-based young architectural practice addenda architects won over the jury in the open international competition, which had attracted 831 submissions from all over the world. The architecture stands out for the clarity and simplic-ity of both the concept and the aesthetics. It is restrained yet persuasive, and the formal vocabulary is a creative take on both the present and Modernism.
Located at the heart of Dessau, Bauhaus Museum Dessau acts to draw a line between city and nature, while likewise interfacing them. Depending on the light, the surroundings are reflected more or less strongly in the glass fa-çade or enable views through the building. On the side facing the city, the block relates all the more strongly to the urban environment, while the build-ings opposite are reflected in its facade. On the side facing the park, the in-teraction with nature is all the stronger when the trees are reflected in the glass. And when you enter the building everything nevertheless seems open and transparent.
The Black Box on the first floor forms the core of the museum. It consists of a closed cube made of reinforced concrete that stands on stilts. For conserva-tional reasons there is no natural light inside, and the 1,500 square metres of space provide optimal climatic conditions under which to present the sensi-tive items from the collection. The box is about 100 metres long, 18 metres wide and floats five metres above the heads of the visitors.
For the load-bearing structure, addenda architects took their cue from bridge building and pushed things to the limit. The cube thus rests only on two stair-well shafts 50 metres apart and there are no intervening supporting pillars. The two ends project about 18 metres over the stairwells. Beneath them, on the north side are office spaces and the delivery bay for art, and on the south side, event venues and education spaces.
On the ground floor, the Open Stage is positioned between the stairwell shafts. This flexible multipurpose space boasts a lobby, the ticket desk, a café and shop as well as 600 square metres of space for changing exhibi-tions. The two artworks Lichtspielhaus by Lucy Raven (art for architecture) and the Arena by Rita McBride provide a forum for dance, concerts, plays, performances, debates, conversations, lectures, film screenings and encoun-ters.
The glass façade that runs around all four sides forms the outer envelope. It embraces the Black Box and the Open Stage and turns them into exhibits in their own right presented in a display case. Structured by a 2.10-metre grid, here addenda architects deliberately rely on repetition to structure their de-sign and yet ensure its maximum flexibility. While the dimensions of the Black Box result from the predefined size of exhibition area required, the mu-seum’s outer dimensions were not included in the brief. Economic factors, namely money and time, were decisive here. The building was made as large as possible with the budget available. The result took just under two and a half years to construct and features a 105-metres-long, 25-metres-wide and 12-metres-high building. A total of 571 triple-glazed glass panes were needed – they provide heat insulation, protection from the sun, bird pro-tection and security.
The Bauhaus Museum Dessau is being built by addenda architects, a young architect's office from Barcelona. At the end of 2015, the design was selected as the winner from 831 submissions in an open international competition. Architect Roberto González talks about the basic concept of the museum and new paths that he and his colleagues have taken for the Bauhaus Museum Dessau.
What is the design concept for the Bauhaus Museum Dessau?
Roberto González: Our basic concept for the museum was to create a large, flexible space so that exhibitions and workshops can take place without feel-ing restricted in any way by the architecture. We obviously had to integrate this idea with the requirements for the museum: It had to provide an area of 1,500 square metres for the collection, protect the exhibits from direct sun-light and offer ideal climatic conditions.
This is how we came up with the idea for the Black Box, a closed concrete cube that floats above the ground. At almost 100 metres in length and 18 metres in width, the Black Box is supported by two staircases, which are 50 metres apart. It doesn’t have any supporting columns. So the Black Box hovers five metres above visitors’ heads. It is always there, always present – like the legacy of the historic Bauhaus. To utilise and expe-rience the building, visitors don’t necessarily have to go through the exhibi-tion of historical objects. On the ground floor, the Open Stage offers space for contemporary artistic perspectives. It’s a look into the future – and this fu-ture is open, flexible and welcoming to everyone.
Of course we couldn’t just leave the space below the Black Box open. We are in Northern Europe where it rains a lot and gets very cold. So we built a kind of winter coat made of glass. This glass facade protects the building. But it also created additional space for exhibitions, events and offices on the ground floor.
The location for the building is quite special. How does the museum manage to fit into Dessau’s municipal park?
González: I visited Dessau for the first time in 2005. I saw the beautiful Bau-haus Building and the Masters’ Houses. At the time, I thought, ‘That’s Des-sau’. In the competition phase for the museum we compiled everything we actually knew about Dessau’s centre. It was not much. That’s when we real-ised that the location of the museum is important. People come to see the Bauhaus Building on one side of the railroad tracks. What’s on the other side gets overlooked so easily. So that’s what was on our mind on our second visit to Dessau. We looked at the city through new eyes and asked our-selves: What would spark the visitors’ interest?
We walked through all of the streets that lead to the park to understand what visitors see on their way to the museum. There are two important main axes: When you’re coming from the direction of the station, you don’t see much of the building. It’s different if you’re standing in the Ratsgasse. Here, you’re walking directly toward the museum and you realise that this is the Bauhaus Museum Dessau. The building attains a certain presence. The same thing happens from the side of the park.
The Bauhaus Museum Dessau functions as both a border and a connection between the city and the park. The building’s two sides are identical. But, depending on the lighting conditions, the environment is reflected to varying degrees. On the side that faces the city, the relationship with the city is strengthened as the facades of the opposite buildings are reflected. On the park side, the relationship with nature is reinforced by the reflection of trees. The moment when you enter the building is magical. Suddenly you are in the middle of it. There are no limitations. Everything seems open, transparent and fluid.
The museum has a fifth facade: the roof, a green roof.
González: The Bauhaus Museum Dessau is located in Dessau’s municipal park. We wanted to protect and preserve the park. That’s why we put a little piece of the park on the roof. Apart from the symbolic motivation there is also a practical reason for doing this: rainwater can be used to water the plants and plants help to isolate the building.
How much Bauhaus is in the architecture of the Bauhaus Museum Dessau?
González: Actually, nothing about the new building was intended as a direct quotation from the outset. But as architects from Barcelona, we have always had a close relationship with Mies van der Rohe. There is a strong connec-tion to the Pavilion in Barcelona. Of course, not every architect in Barcelona loves the Pavilion but we are definitely a team of Mies fans. When we saw the programme for the competition, we realised that it was a challenge. But not in the sense of Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more”. Our maxim was “more with less”.
Our building is about proportion, positioning and space. It’s not so much about using the highest quality materials. But the Bauhaus Museum Dessau shows that given the right combination of materials, space, colours, etc. you can achieve an outstanding result with limited resources. That’s very Bau-haus. If you look at the Bauhaus buildings, you see that the members of the Bauhaus already tried to get the maximum benefit from a minimal invest-ment. There are also some more immediate parallels to the Bauhaus Building. Though they weren’t meant as quotes either. The Black Box sits on the stair-well like a bridge. The Bauhaus Building has a bridge too. Both buildings have two doors on opposite sides that allow you to enter from one side and exit from the other. For us, these decisions were all about flexibility and func-tion. And Gropius was probably thinking the same thing with the Bauhaus Building. The result is very Bauhaus.
What sorts of innovative approaches did you realise?
González: In Spain architects are used to inventing and trying new things all the time. Norms and requirements are less restrictive than in Germany. Here, we had to find already existing solutions to realise our ideas for the Bauhaus Museum Dessau. Of course this would mean that you’re not creating any-thing new but simply selecting from a catalogue of options. That’s why we pushed the standard requirements as far as possible for the Bauhaus Mu-seum Dessau. The Black Box, for instance, is constructed like a bridge. It is bent upward at the ends so that once the scaffolding is gone, its weight, the weight of the visitors and of the exhibits will pull it down. In the end, it should ideally form a horizontal line. That’s not going to happen immediately but in the course of the next maybe 20 years. Because the Black Box is made of concrete and steel, the outcome can’t be calculated exactly. There is some wiggle room – which is much larger than is standard. The planning and construction were really challenging. We had to push the standard requirements by a lot. But we found partners, discussed it with them and finally reached a solution that everyone was able and willing to answer for. In doing it this way, we have created something unique. And something that other architects in Germany can fall back on.
Only with the facade did we deliberately rely on the standard requirements. Here, we were playing with the idea of repetition. While the dimensions of the Black Box are dictated by the size of the exhibition space, the exterior dimen-sions of the building were not fixed from the beginning. They have to do with economic factors: money and time. With the resources we were given, we made the building as large as possible.
What new materials did you use?
González: We used some fairly uncommon new systems. This includes the air conditioning of the building. Except for the administrative wing and the event room, there is no floor heating or even air conditioning on the ground floor since that would be neither environmentally friendly nor financially savvy. So there’s a lot of air that needs to be air-conditioned and there is a glass facade through which additional heat gets into the building when it’s sunny outside. So we made use of the large floor space by installing a water pipe in it. In winter, the floor can be heated with hot water. In summer, we run cold water through the pipes. Fresh air also flows through the building constantly via the ventilation system. This same air is then cooled from the ground. Here in Germany, this system is relatively new. In the south of Spain, it is known from the traditional Andalusian patios.
The material we used for the curtain is brand new. Although the facade has triple glazing with a printed sunscreen and many layers that protect against heat, we needed another element behind the facade to serve a dual purpose: to confine the ventilation area and offer protection from the sun. Our curtain has an innovative metal coating on one side that reflects 70 to 80 percent of sunlight. We ended up using 3,000 square metres of this curtain material.
During the construction of the Bauhaus Museum Dessau you published a number of Cahiers. What’s the idea behind those?
González: During the competition phase, we talked to many colleagues who are not architects. Among them was Moritz Küng, a publisher and curator of art and architecture, who also works with artists. He introduced us to the Leipzig-based photographer Joachim Brohm, who was very interested in photographing the construction process. However, we thought that a photo book documenting the construction would be too expected. Here, too, we wanted to create something that didn’t exist before. Everyone contributed their ideas, we discussed them and that’s how the idea for the Cahiers came about. The ten notebooks guide readers through the process of building the mu-seum and show it from a different, more artistic point of view. There are not just photos of the construction site and the architecture. Rather, the photos focus on other aspects of the construction – aspects that we find very excit-ing and interesting. We also published information that is not typically pub-lished, such as technical drawings or unprocessed records. When architects present their work, they usually redraw everything so that it looks nice and simplified. However, technical drawings tend to be complex and packed with information. That’s exactly what we wanted to show. For instance, in one of the Cahiers you’ll find the plan of the upper floor at a scale of 1:50 on a two-metre long sheet.