Museum For The Decorative Arts

(Frankfurt-am Main. Germany) 1979-85

Designed as part of a new cultural district on the banks of the River Main - the so-called Museumufer - the Museum for the Decorative Arts is an elegant exercise in the interplay of the old and the new in white reflected light modulation, integrating different modular and grid systems.

As in other work by Meier, choices about the organization of circulation were decisive in determining the spatial scheme. Given the didactic character of the museum, the anticlockwise circulation path leads the visitor through a sequence of displays which reflect developments in the history of European art. The linearity of this way of ordering the space is varied by intercepting it with openings. Still more important in the shaping of the new museum is the concern with its relation to the adjacent Villa Metzler - built in 1816 in the Biedermeier style.

This highly successful inscription of a new structure into an environment constrained by its natural and cultural character is achieved not through easy scenographic effects, but by using subtle design strategies: number, proportion. spatial coordinates. The building is subdivided into interconnected units which respond to the proportions of the adjoining Biedermeier structure, creating an indispensable bond with it. not only by responding to it.

but also by reinterpreting it. Proportions and dimensions of the project are thus determined as If radiating from the villa. The 1.10-ffleM module of metal panels is used in the greater part of the new building. This module isdemefi from the basic dimensions - 17.6 metres width and height - of the villa. The shape of ttt fenestration of the new building is extract« also out of the proportions of the villa windaa The concentrated form of the building allow part of the site to be a park open to tft surrounding community, the Sachenhausen.il the south, and the city across the river. In the north. The site is further opened up by introducing pathways and vistas through the barner

Opposite) Ground floor plan ftp) Site plan tto*«l Exterior view

Opposite) Ground floor plan ftp) Site plan tto*«l Exterior view formed by the villas lining the Main. An orthogonal grid, abstracted from the Villa Metzler. and a discrepant second grid oriented towards the river are overlaid, generating the skewed spatial structure of the plan. The formal order of the building is thus generated by superimposition.

Characteristic of Meier's work, there are echoes here of pre war 'purism', an aura of floating and refined, modulated light reminiscent of German Rococo. As one proceeds from room to room, one's impression is of calculated elegance and studied calmness, appropriate qualities for a museum building and felicitous to the character of its location. There is. too. an atmosphere of opulence, clarity, polite conservatism, even predictability, removed from any surprises. This helps to underline the 'minor' character of the objects displayed in the museum, but perhaps it overlooks the innovative quality that at least some of them share with 'high' art. But then, surprise and adventure are not the qualities of Meier's impeccably, implacably purist oeuvre.

Alejandro de la Sota

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