After a construction period of about two-and-a-half years, the new building of Kunsthalle Mannheim had been handed over to the city and its citizens in December 2017. The design by the architects von Gerkan, Marg and Partners (gmp) is for one of the currently largest museum buildings in Germany which, with its unmistakable appearance, confidently stands amongst the neighboring buildings. After several large museum projects in Asia, such as the Maritime Museum in Lingang New City (China), the National Museum in Beijing, and the Hanoi Museum (Vietnam), this is gmp’s first new museum building of comparable dimensions in Germany.
The new museum building at Friedrichsplatz in Mannheim links up with the existing Art Nouveau building, the so-called “Billing” building, and has been designed as a “city in the city.” Within a simple overall structure, individual cubes have been arranged in an inspiring composition to provide exhibition space and rooms for supporting functions. They enclose a central atrium and are linked via galleries, terraces, and bridges. In analogy to the elements that make up urban environments—buildings, blocks, streets, and squares—varied circular routes are created for the visitors through closed and open spaces with changing vistas and outlooks. Nevertheless, visitors find it easy to get their bearings in the museum, which replicates the straightforward, ordered structure of the “city of squares” that is Mannheim. At the same time, every situation along the route of the exhibitions offers new impressions—just as in cities no place is like another owing to the diversity of the architecture, changes in the building lines, and recesses, squares, and open spaces.
As had already been envisaged at the time of the foundation of the Kunsthalle a hundred years ago, it is
given a prestigious elevation towards the park at Friedrichsplatz. From there, visitors enter the central atrium via the new main entrance. The atrium is the point of orientation and also the starting point for the circular tours through the exhibition areas on three levels, two of which are connected with the Art Nouveau building via the historic Athene tract and from there with the open-air sculptures garden. The exhibition concept consists of large spaces with light ceilings, which can be used in various different ways, and two cubes with side lighting. On the third floor a roof terrace has been integrated in the circular tour, from where visitors can enjoy the panoramic view of Friedrichsplatz with the distinctive water tower. This space concept results in the museum and city spaces being functionally and visually interwoven, ensuring that the art radiates out into the city through the architecture and also that the city flows virtually without barriers into the rooms of the new buildings.
The facades are cloaked with a transparent metal mesh with bronze-colored coating that defines the external shape of the building and creates a respectful dialogue with the sandstone color of the neighboring buildings. Varying degrees of transparency are achieved with different mesh widths. Thus, the integrity of the overall building shape is preserved so that the individual volumes can be seen in their graded differences from close up or further away, by day and by night. Just as the urban structure of a city provides the ordering context in which each individual building expresses itself, the “city of art” concept creates an architectural framework which gives rise to an identity and, at the same time, provides maximum flexibility for the curator.
The architectural character of the outside of the new building is essentially determined by the stainless steel mesh. The construction of the metal mesh was specifically developed and produced for the project by the GKD technical weaving mill and is therefore a unique tailor-made piece. It consists of a total of 72 individual bronzed stainless steel panels, which together span 4,635 square meters. Each of eight wire pieces made of stainless steel with a diameter of three millimeters is connected to a four-part, interlinked warp rope. In the areas where the fabric is mounted in front of closed facades, the following pipes have a diameter of 25 millimeters instead. With these differentiations, fields of varying transparency are created which, depending on the angle of view, allow different views and outlooks as well as providing a lively, varied appearance in the alternation of daylight and seasons. When it is dark, this special 44 tons heavy and 21 meters high outer shell can be illuminated with the help of 103 spotlights. Extremely precise planning and execution was required to maintain the fabric's tension and to ensure that it stays in predefined shape, even in extreme temperatures or strong gusts of wind.
Formed in 1965 by Meinhard von Gerkan and Volkwin Marg, the architects’ practice gmp is taking on responsibility for a project from its outline design idea through to the construction and interior design. Over a period of more than 50 years all gmp-partners and their team’s completed more than 410 projects to date and won over 380 first prizes in architectural competitions. Most famous is their airport architecture: Berlin-Tegel was opened as a drive-in airport in 1975, which is until today renowned as a blueprint for this typography and started gmp unprecedented history of success.
The practice’s architectural approach is characterized by the Vitruvian criteria: solidity, durability and beauty. Beyond this approach, the practice always complies with the different certified guidelines applicable in different cultural spheres, as agreed with the respective client. gmp is currently involved in several projects around the world, operating in more than 16 countries.