Learn more about the architecture of the Museum Brandhorst. Since its opening in 2009, the impressive building has been an integral part of Munich's art district Kunstareal. Berlin based architects Sauerbruch Hutton designed something very special for the exterior of the museum building. The multi-colored façade consists of 36,000 ceramic rods that pick up the colors of the surrounding houses. Inside, the imposing wooden staircase and daylight rooms invite visitors to wander through the Brandhorst Collection and changing special exhibitions of contemporary art.
The Museum Brandhorst is situated in the north-eastern corner of the Kunstareal that includes the Alte and Neue Pinakothek museums as well as the Pinakothek der Moderne. With its entrance at the junction of Tuerkenstrasse and Theresienstrasse the Museum Brandhorst forms a connection to the busy Maxvorstadt and lively university districts.
The building of Sauerbruch Hutton architects in Berlin is a long, two-storey, rectangular structure abutting a considerably higher, trapezium-shaped section that widens to the north. The precise contours of both parts are linked by a continuous ribbon glazing that culminates in the generous glazed area at the main entrance. Here a corner window running the full height of the building cuts boldly through the structure to the North West, ensuring that the spacious foyer with the museum ticket desk, bookshop and restaurant receive natural light from three sides and enjoy different views.
A collection of rooms
All galleries (with the exception of the Media Suite) have white walls and wooden floorboards of solid Danish oak which provide a neutral background for the artworks (most of which are installed on the walls). Their lightness, colours and materials ensure a naturally airy atmosphere. The architecture allows enough room for the artworks while, at the same time, the variety of different spaces form what can really be termed ‘a collection of rooms’. The Museum Brandhorst occupies three exhibition areas with an average ceiling height of 9 metres, and they are connected by stairs finished in oak. The large rooms of up to 450 sq. metres with hanging heights of up to 9 metres are on the upper floor. Ceilings with a textile finish distribute the light evenly throughout the rooms and subtly adjust to the changes of natural light. The polygonal room above the foyer was created especially for Cy Twombly’s famous masterwork ‘Lepanto’, affording the twelve large-format pictures a panoramic display. Smaller galleries are on the ground floor. They are arranged as a staggered line of rooms which open up surprising views of still more works of art. Although daylight fills the rooms from high-level windows at the side, the 7-metre-high gallery, set at right angles, is also lit by a large side window. In the basement, the centrally located, 460 sq. metres wide and 7-metre-high atrium receives natural light directly from above. The smaller adjoining galleries for photographic works and works on paper are illuminated exclusively by artificial light. The Media Suite for video and electronic art on the lower floor has been designed as a black box.
The multi-coloured façade
The façade looks like an abstract painting and draws attention to the building’s function as an art museum. It comprises various layers with different functions. On top of the building’s substructure and insulation there is a layer of horizontally folded sheet metal with fine perforations. In front of this, 36,000 ceramic rods have been fixed vertically. These are finished in 23 different coloured glazes and fall into three groups of shades and tonality, accentuating the impression optically that the building is made up of three separate, interlocked volumes. Walking past the building, the surface of the façade seems to alter. There are countless variations in the appearance of the materials and the structure: seen from an angle the vertical ceramic rods form one smooth surface; seen face on, the horizontally emphasized background is visible and becomes the dominant feature. From a distance, the groups of different colours blend into neutral shades, each with a different brilliance and tonal impact. From close to, each of these fields becomes broken down into its component colours.
Museum Brandhorst houses an abundance of technology that remains hidden to our guests. The delicate artworks in the Brandhorst collection have to be protected from climatic fluctuations and dust, as well as from mechanical damage or theft. Indoor climate control, air purity, protection from unduly light exposure and security comprise a holistic system that is designed to be as comprehensive as it is ecologically friendly. The Doerner Institute’s (https://www.doernerinstitut.de/en) decades of experience in issues relating to museum construction made an essential contribution to devising an innovative system, in close collaboration with the architects, building authorities and planners.
While conventionally climate-controlled museum buildings heat and cool with air, Museum Brandhorst uses the walls and floor to regulate room temperature. Through this so-called “building component activation”, a high level of temperature stability is achieved. In comparison to conventionally climate-controlled museum spaces, it also makes lower room temperatures possible. This effect is familiar to us from traditional masonry heaters. Despite the lower air temperature, the gallery feels uniformly warm and pleasant to the visitor.
The air exchange is carried out by means of upward-displacement air conditioning: air vents are located along the walls through which the conditioned air reaches the gallery space. The filtering of the fresh air that is introduced prevents air-polluting particles and gases from harming the sensitive surfaces of the artworks. In addition to this, the upward-displacement air conditioning also takes care of the regulation of the relative humidity, the stability of which is important for the preservation of the valuable exhibits.
Another important component is the lighting system: in Museum Brandhorst, daylight is given priority over artificial light. Elements covered with transparent plastic form luminous ceilings which define the visual impression both of the ground floor and of the galleries on the upper floor. These luminous ceilings distribute the diffuse daylight as well as the artificial lighting which is hidden behind them. Concealed light-regulating elements control the light exposure and prevent high levels of illumination, which can be damaging for the exhibited artworks.
The security of the exhibits is ensured through a multi-level system, ranging from securing the artworks on the wall to a comprehensive video surveillance system.
Previous practices in museum construction are no longer affordable today, and in light of global climate change, are also no longer defensible. Museum Brandhorst is one of the first – if not the first – museum buildings to adopt a holistic and sustainable ecological concept.
This is particularly evident in the climate control and lighting systems, as well as the façade design. Today’s necessary air conditioning systems and their concomitant cooling technology typically emit large quantities of unutilised energy into the environment. Subterranean district-heating pipelines and heat-dissipating buildings with deep foundations also contribute to this issue. To the detriment of microbiological equilibrium, the temperature of the groundwater in inner-city areas now exceeds 20°C. In the area surrounding the museum, the temperature level is similarly high. For this reason, Museum Brandhorst utilises the heat energy of the groundwater: heating pumps draw out the water’s energy, which benefits the ecology, and makes it available for use in controlling the temperature of Museum Brandhorst.
The previously described upward-displacement air-conditioning is not just beneficial to the museum, but also saves energy. In contrast to conventional mixed ventilation, it distributes the conditioned air at much lower velocities and thus requires reduced ventilator output, as well as 50% less air quantity. This prevents draughts – which are unpleasant for visitors – and contamination of the surfaces of the works on exhibit.
The museum is breaking new ground in terms of exterior glazing: in conventional buildings, the warmth produced by sunlight must be expelled by energy-consuming ventilation. In Museum Brandhorst on the other hand, the cleverly selected exterior glazing around the upper floor of the gallery does not just reduce direct light exposure, but primarily serves to reduce the need to heat the spaces beneath it. Additional energy savings are achieved through the used interior air, which ascends from the galleries up into the hung luminous ceilings, thus helping to control the climate conditions in the ceiling cavity.
Museum Brandhorst even contributes to the improvement of environmental conditions through its innovative façade. Just as in other bustling major cities, the local inhabitants are forced to endure continual traffic noise. The façade – comprised of perforated, folded sheet metal – and the 36,000 rods suspended in front of it, counteract this noise pollution: they absorb the sound and thus reduce the traffic noise in the surrounding streets.
Considered building physics and modern technologies create ideal conditions – the precondition for the long-term preservation of the Brandhorst collection’s valuable exhibits. In doing so, the building’s operators, the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen and the associated Doerner Institute, are not just following their “stable is safe” policy, but are also meeting their social responsibilities and obligations regarding ecological targets: a lasting reduction in energy consumption for electronics and heating, and significantly lower CO2 emissions in comparison with conventional museum buildings.