“I wanted to create a bold interruption, a fundamental dislocation, to penetrate the historic arsenal…” – this is Daniel Libeskind’s description of his extension to Dresden’s Military History Museum, a neoclassical building that dates from the time of Wilhelm I of Germany. The new space created by the architect is a five-storey wedge, built from 200 tons of concrete, steel and glass, that slices through the centre of the original structure.
Originally the arsenal of the Saxony army, the building was subsequently a museum of the Saxon, Nazi, Soviet, and, finally, Asian conflicts. Today it illustrates the history of German military, an integral element of the country’s cultural history. But the building also reflects on the nature of war, and the societal and human impulses that create the culture of violence. The design sets out to create a military museum that is anti-war. An extraordinary thing in itself, but it goes beyond that to make the building a place of remembrance and ‘opinion’ that will teach the culture of peace. This is also the concept behind the exhibition spaces, expressed by the architectural contrast between the two parts of the museum: the old building, which presents military history in chronological order, and the new exhibition area, which slices through this history with themes relating to the value of peace, the fight against poverty and hunger, environmental protection, the importance of international peacekeeping missions, and the fight against terrorism. One section is dedicated to East Germany and the regime of terror that robbed citizens of their freedom and dignity.
On the top floor of the new structure is an open observation deck that is exposed to the winds that penetrate metal shell. It offers stunning views over the city, which was rebuilt after the devastating bombing of February 1945, to form a dramatic space for reflection after visiting the museum. Like a huge glass shard, the wedge itself, however, points the opposite way – the direction from where the bombers that destroyed the city arrived.
Dresden’s Military History Museum is now the largest museum in Germany, with an exhibition area of around 215 thousand square feet (20,000 sq.m.). The combination of the building’s neoclassical architecture and the new extension by Daniel Libeskind creates a natural symbiosis between space, narrative, and content.