credit Norbert Miguletz
words Caitlin TobiaszWhile most cities are clamouring for exuberant public projects in hope of a repeat Bilbao effect, Frankfurt's Städel Museum has chosen a more modest approach for its recent extension. The addition, by local architecture firm Schneider and Schumacher, is buried beneath the museum's courtyard garden and provides an additional 3,000sq m of exhibition space for a growing contemporary art collection.
"The Städel doesn't need a 'Bilbao' because it already has a strong presence," Michael Schumacher, one of the project's architects, has explained elsewhere. "To try to pull off a mini Bilbao would have been a bit like letting off a firecracker at some second-rate New Year's Eve party." Furthermore, the museum was already composed of two buildings – built half a century apart – and the firm feared that adding a third would unsettle the relative consistency of the pre-existing structures.
The domed roof of the subterranean gallery bubbles out of the ground like a Teletubby mound, punched through with a grid of circular skylights. The playful exterior is reminiscent of earthworks such as Maya Lin's Wave Field, but avoids the status of sculptural object due to its purposeful connection to internal space: by day natural light falls into the gallery space through the skylights, while at night artificial light radiates out, creating what Schumacher calls a "stunning jewel".
To access the extension, visitors must descend a grand staircase placed along the central axis of the Städel's main entrance, reinstating the museum's original symmetrical arrangement. A mere 12 columns support the roof, allowing the gallery space a high degree of flexibility for exhibitions. "The ceiling is very gently curved and continuous so that you almost have the impression of being under a duvet," Schumacher explains. The curvilinear ceiling and round skylights contrast strongly with the right angles and flat walls of the gallery space. One can only hope that an imaginative curator finds a way of incorporating the ceiling into future exhibitions.
Unlike the mixed reviews garnered by many recent bold museum extensions, critics and Frankfurters alike have applauded the Städel's clever addition. The extension, according to Schumacher, "engenders a sense of amazement. Amazement not only at how apparently simple it is to solve this equation, but also at how elegant this solution can be".
credit Norbert Miguletz