From Mies to Zumthor. An idea of Museum: from the muses to the factory.

Renato Capozzi

The essay will investigate the singular analogies and differences in the conception of the idea of Museum developed by Mies van der Rohe and that experienced, with evident ancestry, by Peter Zumthor. An idea that if in the first it will reify in some masterpieces starting from the Barcelona Pavilion to the unrealized for the 1935 Brussels Expo and then redefining itself in the theoretical project of a museum for a small city 1942 and conclude - passing through the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston of 1958-74 - in the Georg Schaefer Museum in Schweinfurt of 1960-63 and in the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, in the second author and unusually he will land in the Werkraum house in Andelsbuch in the Bregenzerwald region of 2008, inaugurated in 2013. In this meaning the essay will be structured in paragraphs that starting from the thematic ideation / invention found in the "position of the problem" offered by Mies, underlying the typological, spatial solutions and the compositional arrangements gradually proposed, will investigate the architectural and constructional characteristics in the various projects taken into consideration. A similar descriptive and analytical structure will be used in the variation "admissible variation" developed by Peter Zumthor in the Werkraum via the Kolumba Museum in Cologne in 2007 and its hypostyle constitution and not to mention some etymes found in the Kunst haus in Bregenz in 1990-97.

The “position of the problem”: the idea of Museum in MvdR
The idea of a museum developed by Mies van der Rohe concerns the progressive liberation of space from a clear syntactic order represented by the structure which, exhibited a-tectonically (smooth cover) or tectonically (ribbed roof), defines the condition of possibility of the “Radural” space: a Lichtungraum where the Muses can live. A way of living created in contact with the ground, the landscape in the background and the surrounding nature progressively mineralized in the combined or exclusive adoption or of the hypostyle type alternating with patios and fences to root its external offshoots (Pavilion in Brussels and Museum for small city) or distinct from that original substratum and re-signified in the urban area through Hall-type spaces in turn rooted in crepidomas often concealing a hypostyle structure (Museum of Fine Arts, Georg Schaefer Museum, Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin). Hypostyle and Hall-type as alternative but often combinable paradigms to organize the continuous space that is at the center of Miesian research. On the one hand, a space dotted with no lines and inhabited by erratic presences of marble walls or stained-glass windows or by large sculptures or by full-scale paintings, largely experimented in Barcelona and in the theoretical projects of patio houses, and on the other , an undivided, continuous space, without obstructions, available for different and changing uses and uses. The first space requires a strict modular and constructive rule normally on square mesh in whose nodes the thin columns rise, the second centralized forms, large roofs supported on the perimeter without further presences: spaces that can be crossed but the first are rhythmic, spaces that can be crossed and continuous, the second ones are undifferentiated and not oriented. If the hypostyles, starting from the clear structure, really make the plant "free" precisely because it is regimented by the columns with the walls and other diaphragms that never absorb them, the Hall-type buildings make the space free by returning it floating, suspended, isotropic without direction and completely crossable with the look both from the inside and from the outside. In defining the idea of a museum, we pass from an idea of a large house for art and culture, so to speak, to an idea of universal space that cannot be predetermined, a space we would say today as an essential (Capozzi, 2020), a "house for Muses "elusive, an idea entirely connectable to the known and unreachable vastness of which Boullée had been capable. A space available to be inhabited in many ways: "being can be said in many ways" said Aristotle, a space that surrounds being is however always referable to a Chora to "what is outside", outside the nature that the architectural space makes known because it can be observed freely. For Plato in the Timaeus the Chora is a place, a district of the Open, a receptacle1, for Deridda2 indeed the Chora is without brand or metaphor possible, it, while avoiding any hermeneusis, in some way "anachronizes the being" (Derrida, 1997). In other words, the Chora makes it possible for a place to happen, at the same time to receive it and to conceive it. Without the Chora, undivided space would not be conceivable or buildable. The space of pure extension (extensio) of the Chora or Khôra (Rispoli, 2019) contrasts with the Corte o chortos which is by its nature a space enclosed, excluded, cut. The fence and the wall, as Martí Arís reminded us, are the complement of the portico and the roof as an epitome of the undivided space. This is the ultimate meaning of the freed space, uncluttered and not occluded, a space of an es gibt (of what is given, what is there, what exists) that Mies associates with the idea of Museum (Derrida, 1997).

From the Museum for a small town to the Neue Nationalgalerie
If in the Museum for a small city the grammar is still, albeit amplified, the one experienced in the Barcelona and Brussels Pavilions and in the tranches of blocks of patio houses, reaffirming a museum idea as a remembrance of a "big house" for art, in Berlin, in Schweinfurt and partly in the Museum of Fine Arts in Huston - where the large Hall supported by trestles leans in antis on an existing building - the memorial analogy is instead with the Temple, to represent the value the public building par excellence. We move from an isotropic system regulated by the structural span in which clearly distinguishable elements shape the space defining its distinctive places, the open but covered, uncovered, closed or semi-closed sequences to indicate spaces of greater value - as in the large tetrastyle hall discovered in the pavilion Brussels taller and more distinct from the fence - in presences that in some places undermine the regular layout to allow unpublished activities - think of the dilation of the conference room in the regular mesh in the Museum for a small city that produces two extrados beams ( an advance of the Hall type as in the contemporary collage for a concert hall mounted on a photo of the interior of an hangar by Albert Kahn) - or even to an undivided and traversable spatiality in which few and laconic "archaeological" elements, or better said "Archaic" give precious testimony to the value of universal space. Universal3 precisely because it is continuous and floating "without verse", denoted by the maximum understanding, capable of simultaneous and generalized reception, and, at the same time, of the maximum extension, because the outcome of the technical undertaking that allows its release (Capozzi, 2020)
An extension made possible by the construction freed as a precondition for an unconditional event of art but always to be renewed. An "unemployed" space that welcomes the highest human product in different ways. A space that, if in the Museum for a small city was rendered through "[...] only three basic elements: the floor plan (Grund), the pillars and the roof plan (Säulendach)"4 to define a plate system with patios , short in relation to the landscape, in Berlin, by now freeing up the space, it becomes absolute in the black coffered roof that lets in and reflects the urban and natural exterior of the city and the Tiergarten.
The system one proposed for Neue is by strómata which, always, becomes a obvious representation of the process of progressive emancipation of space which from the ordered and punctuated system of the hypostyle opens, as in the clearing, to a potentially infinite undivided space - that of the undivided Hall - willing to welcome a multitude of events that cannot be determined a-priori. A museum opens to the city through the total traversability of the gaze of the Hall-space delimited and supported by only eight columns but still resting on a radical wall system and hypostyle fixed in the ground made of sequences, concealments, fences and sudden openings. A diaphanous tectonic system legitimized by a dense stereotomic crepidoma that recounts its condition of possibility, its transcendental condition. Continuous spaces reachable only through the experience and substratum of ctonic, hypogean spaces, gradually thinning out in the large patio of the sculptures. For Mies, in fact, that of Berlin "is such an immense space that undoubtedly entails great difficulties for art exhibitions. I am aware of this. But it has such potential that I simply cannot take into account those difficulties and its unexplored possibilities, I do not want to miss them».

The “permissible variation”: the idea of a museum in Peter Zumthor
Two distant projects - the Kunst haus in Bregenz and the Kolumba Museum in Cologne - set the terms of the thematic conception of the museum, as it were, pioneered by Peter Zumthor. If in the first the device of multi-level trays supported by a few massive and peripheral elements to house the differentiated ascent and descent systems enveloped by a scaly etched glass facade tends to define diaphanous spaces to accommodate works of art and temporary exhibitions, the according to his massive and concave spaces (walls that become inhabited rooms) of the archdiocese and liturgical exhibitions but supporting everything on a large hypostyle - inhabited by a glazed polychrome apse (the chapel for the "Madonna delle Rovine" built by Gottfried Böhm from 1950) - which protects the most important piece of the museum: the ruin of the ancient Gothic church. In the first case sequences of overlapping clear spans fenced by wall partitions, in the second small and labyrinthine cavities are made up surmounting a large hiatus dotted at full height indicated on the outside by a slight perforated embroidery of the brick facade. In Bregenz, the inhabited wall is reduced to an enveloping septum, empty and cleared spaces which on the outside are synthetically represented as a shimmering but not transparent volume; in Cologne, on the other hand, an archeology that supports and legitimizes the new, conceived as an impending mass of society of rooms that conceals a numinous space of points of light that appease the penumbra. In describing the Bregenz museum, Zumthor himself says: «The Kunsthaus is located in the light of Lake Constance. A body made of glass, steel panels and a stony mass of reinforced concrete, which generates structure and space inside the building. Seen from the outside, the building resembles a filament. It absorbs the changing light of the sky, the misty light of the lake, emanates light and color and, depending on the angle of view, the time of day and time, allows something of intuition in one's inner life ». In other words, certainly less lyrical, the museum as a place for art meditation and for self-meditation, a place for works and for people and their mutual relationship. A neutral place ab-solute impenetrable from the outside, a place of radical interior even if changing and changing outside both in the Kunst house and in the Kolumba. Again on the inauguration of the Kolumba, Our stated "They believe in the inner values of art, in its ability to make us think and feel, its spiritual values. This project has emerged from inside and outside ». The museum is therefore a device for revealing the most ingenious values of art through forms, light and spaces, but also a way to make ourselves active and sentient and sensitive subjects and partakers of ineffable values. The ability of architecture is to retain and exhibit these spiritual virtues starting from the definition of interior, hollow spaces, hidden and to be discovered. A sensitive and innovative variation, in some ways surprising, knowing the ways preferred by Zumthor, compared to these previous interpretations of the museum's theme, is represented, as will be seen better in the near future, by the Werkraum in Andelsbuch. A space for work, a factory of space for culture and the diffusion of wooden construction, an educational space for leisure and parties, which despite having hollow spaces inside - exemplified by the large massive concrete blocks for ascents and services, amplifications of the septa of the Kunst haus but not to the point of becoming paratactically composed rooms as in the Kolumba - it becomes absolute, as in Mies, in a single roof supported by columns to define an internal covered space but, at the same time, open although protected by a continuous window. A glass window which, this time, unlike Bregenz, is not opalescent leather but is completely transparent and can be crossed with the eye. In other words, in this decisive but "admissible variation", we move from a radical interior more or less concealed with wall or "textile" wraps of translucent and semi-transparent leathers, from massive articulated or stereometric apparatuses to the elementary exhibition of the floors and volumes that in their opening reaffirm the collective role of the new museum hypothesis. A museum as an encounter, as a flexible space available to a series of undeterminable possibilities: again the universalizing space of Mies.

Werkraum as an inhabited hypostyle

As we have seen also in the museums developed by Mies there were some distinct elements, erratic stereotomic apparatuses (think of the two marble dolmens of the Neue Nationalgalerie but also of the thickening of the museum for a small town) or tectonic devices to allow opening. Formal and figural systems that will find a wide use in Werkraum to determine a work space, but at the same time dedicated to the exhibition of wood crafts products (Holzbau) but also a meeting and communication space set against the landscape. A space that, like the Miesian hypostyles, is determined by the exact construction of the columns which in this case do not establish an a-tectonic relationship with the roof, as in Barcelona and Brussels, but denounce, as in Berlin, with great evidence the system construction of the coffered roof. Black fields, small intertwined plates of wooden beams supported, every four, by slender columns arranged on orthotropic mesh. A large roof that determines a place partially protected by the window that also includes volumetric presences for services and ascents. A synthesis, if you will, of the many ways of "building the space"5 of the museum experienced by Mies but also by Zumthor himself: the Cologne columns, the volumes under one roof, but this time centrifuged, both from Cologne and Bregenz. A space immersed in reality, made rational, in which the work (Werk) to be exhibited is not only a work of art (Kunstwerk) but is the result of craftsmanship and its shared sharing which are made public in an immersive communication that gives but also space, in some configurations made possible by the amplification of the span, to recollection. A large rectangle in the proportion of 2 to 7 defined by the large coffered roof in turn divided into 42 lacunars, 28 of which are square perimeters and divided into nine modules and 14 double central (two squares) of eighteen modules. To support this ribbed wall, six tetrastile spans of 10mx10m for a total of 14 columns line up along the major axis. A roof with only two rows of columns on square mesh like in Barcelona. On the underground floor, the shirt doubles, making five of the five meters correspond to five of the six upper spans. The large roof is delimited by the stained glass window which leaves a pair of free columns on the outside that act as a counterpoint to the volume of the freight elevator and the service staircase. In addition to this external volume two more for the internal stairs and for the services perforate the glass and turn, defining the distinctive places, to the internal space. The rest is entrusted to the right proportions of the height of the space covered by the roof, to the rhythm of the uprights of the windows different but centered on the roof modules, the quality of the materials, the different places determined by the volumes: on the left the meeting place and the debate, at the center of the reception the refreshment with the bar and the display of products. Under the large archive, the services and technical rooms. A large roof supported by columns confined by a glass, resting on the ground that subtends a hypostyle hypostyle space for the archive as a counterpoint to the constructive and light amplification of the wooden structure that houses three habitable cement dolmens without ever touching them. A return to téchne as technique and art, understood as "ability to do with the hands", exalted and magnified here in a huge and precious transparent showcase.

As we have tried to show Mies and Zumthor in the conception of the museum they both use some typological structures gradually combined and redefined. The one punctuated and ordered by the span or by the two-way hypostyle system of the columns according to a relationship that in the master of Aachen from a-tectonic principle is gradually made tectonic in the exhibition of the members and in the conquest of the universal space of the Hall-type buiding but still always put in contrast with the massive construction, masonry and concealed, which presupposes it. The stereotomic wall of rooms and excavated volumes that in the Swiss master tends to erode and break up to find in the dialectic in presentia, no longer on overlapping planes but coexisting between volumes and styluses, the sense of a space available for many uses. A universal space in Mies for the Muses but ultimately subtracted from them to re-donate it to life, to observe and be Chora and, on the other hand, a space for the work of manufacture, wooden carpentry and sharing that becomes courtly in magnifying the accuracy and precision of Baukunst.


1  Receptacle (from the Latin receptacūlum, der. of receptāre from recipēre [re + capi]: to receive, to welcome) understood as "what gathers" and "what receives" but also as an environment (from the Latin ambiens present participle of ambire: go around, surround) natural or artificial where people or things come together and extensively a place of collection, shelter, refuge. (Nocentini, Parenti, 2010).
2  In this sense the Χώρα from Plato in the Timaeus is described: it, placed between the sensible and the intelligible, is neither being nor non-being but it is precisely an "interval between things" to which the "forms" were originally retained . Khora "gives space" and has the maternal latency of the womb, and of the matrix. For Heidegger the "Khora" refers to a clearing in which being happens or takes place, in the same way, for Derrida, it is that radical alterity that "gives rise" to being. Derrida also maintains that the subjectile (the substrate, the substantia, the subject and the object together) is, as in Plato's Khora and in the Greek conception of space, a receptacle (dechomenon) and a place that defies those attempts at names or of logic that tries to "deconstruct". (Derrida, 1997).
3  Universal > universàle adj. [Sec. XIV 'corresponding to the idea of maximum understanding and extension'; sec. XVI ‘relative to the universe as a geographical-astronomical entity’], from lat. universālis -e, der. by universus.
Universe > univèrso m.n. [Sec. XIV] ~ the totality of existing things and the undefined space in which they are found. Latin loan: from lat. universum 'the whole world', no. Deputy. of universus 'everything, everything whole'. The der. universālis was introduced by Quintilian as a translation cast. of the gr. katholikós and used by Scholastica at n. pl. universālĭa to indicate abstract general categories. (Nocentini, Parenti, 2010).
4  MIES VAN DE ROHE L. (1943) – “Museum for a Small City”. Architectural Forum, 5.
5  Expression used by Uwe Schröder in: SCHRÖDER U. (2009) - Die Zwei Elemente der Raumgestaltung, Wasmuth Verlag, Tubingen-Berlin, tr. it., ID. (2015) - I due elementi dell’edificazione dello spazio, intr. by C. Moccia, Aión, Florence.


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