Staab Architekten reveals design for Bauhaus archive building in Berlin
The sawtooth roof and distinctive curving bridge ramp of the Bauhaus archive and museum in Berlin are instantly recognisable around the world. So when Staab Architekten won the competition to extend the Walter Gropius-designed site they were very aware that they couldn’t – and didn’t want – to do anything that would overshadow the existing structures, or, as practice founder Volker Staab puts it, ‘turn it into a secondary building’.
The architects’ answer to this specific constraint is a 6,700 sq m extension, due to complete in 2022, composed of a slender five-storey glazed tower that will house the museum’s public amenities and educational facilities, a low-slung pavilion containing a café and shop, and a series of underground museum galleries that will spill out onto a cloister-style walkway and inner courtyard.
The new exhibition spaces will be built around the existing sunken garden and below the pedestrian ramp, creating a natural connection between the new and old museum foyers while preserving views of the famous silhouette of fins. The one-storey building will act as a wall and noise buffer between the busy street north of the site and, together with the tower, create a more substantive and symbolic entrance for the new ensemble. ‘Before, the Gropius building had parking in front of it and didn’t really address the road, so this has been much improved by the new design,’ says Staab.
Though the project doesn’t pay tribute to the Bauhaus in a formal way – ‘it isn’t a white cube’, says Staab with a smile – the tower references the experimental and revolutionary nature of the movement – specifically the revolution in building systems the school embraced – in the way it is designed. Whereas Bauhaus acolytes promoted a sort of revolution in construction, Staab and his team celebrate the digital revolution in their tower design. ‘The construction of the tower was only possible through digital calculations and parametric optimisation tools,’ he explains. ‘We could never have done the calculations in an analogue way.’
The results are alluring. The thin vertical load-bearing columns that surround the building are slightly angled and appear to be ‘softly dancing and somehow fragile’, according to Staab. The permeability of the resulting structure also harks back to the open, interactive approach of the Bauhaus.
The existing Gropius building will also be restored to its original condition and internal additions taken out as part of the extension project. Most importantly perhaps, the films used to darken the windows and preserve the exhibits will be removed, bringing back the connection between the outside and inside, and the views in from the pedestrian walkway. When the new site completes the Gropius building will once again function primarily as an archive.
Overall the new museum extension by Staab Architekten is quietly audacious yet respectful; and transforms what was a somewhat lacklustre and confusing site into something far more legible with a sense of place and a heart in its new interior plaza. ‘The staff told us they would often find people wandering around the promenade looking for the entrance to the museum,’ explains Staab. (In fact only the archive could be entered from the walkway, while the museum was always one floor down.)
Originally, the archive was supposed to be located on a hilly site in Darmstadt, southern Germany. The way it was adapted to its new and flat site in Berlin was never entirely satisfactory, believes Staab. ‘But by then Gropius wasn’t involved anymore and it was his office that completed the building after his death.’ Though it is impossible to tell conclusively from renderings and models, this extension looks set to vastly improve the experience of visiting and working in the Gropius archive and museum, while keeping the silhouette and importance of the pedestrian access route intact. Plus it throws in a delightful experimental landmark of its own, for good measure. §