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Kolumba from A to Z
(2007 to the opening of the new building)
In all the museum rooms (and storerooms), apart from the foyer, the temperature and humidity can be finely adjusted. Due to the >thermo-active building system and >geothermal energy the necessary technical installations could not be visibly integrated into floors and ceilings of the exhibition rooms. Unlike conventional air-conditioners, the supply air flows in from above through the lamp holes in the mortar ceiling and the used air is exhausted over large areas through the floor-edge >joint. The fresh air is obtained from the large space of the archaeological zone, where it flows in through the >filter masonry. The planning for this system was in the hands of Gerhard Kahlert from Haltern.
One of the main reasons for chosing this place for the new building was the preservation of the exceptional archaelogical site. Excavations (1973-1976) produced three Roman foundations of the late Gothic church St. Kolumba (9th to 13th century). Early remains of a wall stem from the founding time of the City of Cologne (mid 1st century). The apsis of a late Roman house dates from Frankish time (around 700) and probably marks the beginning of the veneration of Saint Kolumba in this place. Since the fragments were merely covered with a wooden roof, they were in danger of eventually being destroyed.
After several years of preparation an architectural competition was organized in 1996. It was open to participants from the archbishopric of Colonge. Seven architects from other european countries had also been invited to the anonymous competition. In June 1997, after a three-day of examining, the jury voted 12:1 for the draft of Peter Zumthor.
In veneration of the a Late Gothic statue of Mary which had remained standing and undamaged in the war rubble, the chapel »Madonna in the Ruins« was erected according to a design by Gottfried Böhm (born 1920). Furnished with works by Ludwig Gies, Ewald Mataré, Georg Meistermann, Jan Thorn-Prikker, Elisabeth Treskow and Rudolf Peer, it is a gem of religious art from the twenties to the fifties. The plan of the building supervisor of the time, the parish priest Joseph Geller, was to re-erect the church as a contemporary building, which would surround the chapel. Gottfried Böhm provided architectural plans in 1949 and 1957 including church buildings and finally in 1973 with the addition of a »Kolumba Institute«. Unlike that of Peter Zumthor his plans provided only for enclosing the octagon, not the chapel entrance, which has been given a vestibule in the present building. As before, the “coated” chapel was discretely preserved to be used for divine services.
On the basis of the heterogeneous collection of the museum as founded in 1853, the variety of the collection is one of its main aims. It ranges now from late antiquity to the present, from Romanesque sculpture to space installations, from medieval panel painting to »Radical Painting«, from Gothic ciborium to articles of everyday use from the twentieth century. The search for an overriding order, balance, proportion and beauty is common to all artistic endeavour and the thread that binds the collection. Special areas include early Christianity (Coptic textiles), painting, sculpture and the art of the goldsmith from the 11th to the 16th century, witnesses to the piety of the people, and one of the most comprehensive collections of rosaries. In 1996 this collection was enriched remarkably by the Härle donation, which includes two thirds of what was formerly one of the most significant private German collections of medieval sculpture. The 19th century is represented by paintings, drawings and religious graphic reproductions. In the field of “Modernism” it has been possible to build up a small collection that plays an important role as a bridge between the 19thcentury and contemporary art. The donation of part of the estate of Andor Weininger, who was prominent in the Bauhaus movement in Weimar und Dessau, was a milestone in 1999. In contemporary art collection activities have focused on artistic discourses which pursued matters of human existence at the height of their times and which are especially important for the Church. With this wide range of approaches there is an opportunity to discover in an artwork religious dimension relevant to its own time and beyond. Wherever possible, the collection aims at building up comprehensive groups of work from individual artists that can be integrated into many different exhibitions from many points of view. With the Schriefer donation of works and forms, the collection received a consistent enrichment in the field of applied art from the twentieth century.
What sense is there in answering questions nobody asks and providing information so complex that it is incomprehensible? Kolumba sees itself as a place for individual discoveries. >Guided tours are conducted in the museum as art talks in front of selected originals. They centre on the individual observations of participants. The aim of these dialogues is not to take away the immanent strangeness of the art work but to communicate its complexity and ambivalence, to explain art with art.
About twelve >years after it had been possible to resolve the site issue, with the express support of the Priests’ Council and the Church Tax Council, the Archbishop decided to hold the >architecture competition, and from this Peter Zumthor emerged as the winner in 1997. After a planning phase of several years, in mid 2002 the costs for the entire project were calculated at €36.7m and finance was secured at this level by the owner of the building. The high demands on >air conditioning and, especially, the remarkable complexity of the site made it clear throughout the entire planning and implementation phases that realising the project according to the plan, especially in relation to the construction period, and consequently the building costs, would be burdened with risks. Therefore, the project management process was aimed in every phase at securing conformity to the projections and specifications as far as possible. Normal price increases were included in the calculation of costs, but not the – in some cases exorbitant – increases in costs for materials (such as steel) or the rise in value added tax. Due to overlaps in time with general, quite drastic saving measures of the >owner, however, there was an unconditional target of keeping the financial expenditure of the Diocese within the limits of secured financing while maintaining the quality of the building work. From the very beginning of the planning phase, the owner tried to obtain public subsidies for the investments in >archaeology (ground monument preservation) and >geothermal energy. With the support of the City of Cologne it was possible to obtain a subsidy from the Land government of €5m. The building costs have now reached a total of €43.4m, of which €5m were financed through the said subsidy and the remaining €38.4m from the owner’s own resources.
One of the unique features of Peter Zumthor’s design was not to erect a building on the former churchyard of Kolumba, so that a museum courtyard with a view of the north wall of the ruins could be created here. The »Large Recumbent Woman« of the Swiss sculptor, Hans Josephsohn (born in Königsberg in 1920), is one of the few works from the collection that are on permanent display. Her presence in the courtyard with its eleven planted >trees takes up the lost tradition of the museum gardens which invite people to stop a while, have a rest and meditate.
During the past fifteen years there has not only been approval of the new building. For a long time encapsulating the >chapel was a matter of debate. Well-known Cologne architects accused the museum of ignorance and Peter Zumthor of brutalism. The interested public was especially fearful that an intervention at this sensitive site could destroy the traces of history. A citizens’ initiative even warned of a deterioration in air quality in the Kolumba quarter because of the new building. Gottfried Böhm, the builder of the >chapel approved of the basic concept of the new building and the associated encapsulation of the chapel at a joint press conference with Peter Zumthor at the end of 2001. He had first made the suggestion of constructing a superstructure for the chapel in his plans of 1949, which he updated in his plans of 1957, 1973 and 1997. Unanswered was the question of how the corner of the building was to be structured on Brückenstrasse and Kolumbastrasse. No consensus could be reached on this because Böhm wanted to keep this corner open with a view of the south facade of the chapel, while the owner, partly in consideration of the former situation of St. Kolumba, had decided in favour of the now realised solution of a vestibule. Even after completion of the new building criticism was directed at the changed lighting situation in the chapel, which is thought by some to be too dark. They are opposed by those who accept the darker sacred space with its surrounding membrane of light as an intimate devotional space. The owner waited for completion of the details before finally considering the necessity of any supporting light.
The preservation of the archaeological zone requires a natural climate (as an alternative to complicated and expensive technical equipment). The so-called filter brickwork allows air and mild daylight to penetrate the walls. It forms a mosaics of light wrapping up the chapel
in ethereal beams of light. For several years samples of the filter brickwork were produced up to a scale of 1:1.
You can find a full list of all firms involved in the building process under the menu »Building« / »institutions and firms involved«.
The building virtually has no gaps. There is a slight natural movement in the material which is compensated for by the mass. Therefore you can find many hairline cracks on the floors and ceilings. The only gaps between walls and floor serves to air-condition the rooms by taking in vitiated air.
The unusual ground plan of the building results from that of the late Gothic church St. Kolumba with its northern annex which is now the foyer. When the Romanic church consisting of three naves was extended, it was with respect to Brückenstrasse thus resulting in a trapezoide form of the Gothic church with five naves. The biggest exhibition room still shows the form of the nave as well as the first floor rooms show the form of the former side naves. Especially the structure of the different exhibition rooms makes clear the long time of planning in order to achieve different and the best possible situations concerning light and space.
We offer a guided tour every Saturday at 10.30 am for individual visitors. Due to the limited number of participants please telephone our office in advance. Guided tours for groups take place before or after the opening hours. Please book well in advance.
»It´s not what you see that is art, art is the gap. I like this idea and even if it´s not true, I accept it for the truth.« Marcel Duchamp
By altering the exhibition several times over the course of the year, Kolumba largely displays its own collection in changing contexts. Each year a new selection of works is introduced on September 15. (Artistic) Interventions supplement and change the context of this collection presentation.
The church of St. Kolumba goes back to the old church dedicated to St. Kolumba herself, and the history of its construction can be experienced vividly through the >archaeology. The cult of this saint, promoted by the royal court of the Merovingians, was possibly brought to Cologne from there by Bishop St. Kunibert (born before 626, died after 648). Originally, the centre of her veneration was in Sens, where relics of the saint, said to be a prince’s daughter from Saragossa, were kept. According to the legend, she refused to marry the son of the Emperor Aurelian, was locked in a brothel and then, after an unsuccessful attempt to burn her, was flagellated and beheaded in 273. Her attribute is a bear, which is said to have defended her virginity from a rapist.
The purpose of the new building was not to create a museum »flooded with light« but rather Kolumba is a light-and-shade museum, which develops with the changing times of daylight and seasons and also experiences twilight. This applies to the space for >archaeology no less than to the exhibition rooms. The classical museum ceiling, which guarantees even light at all times, was abandoned in favour of a vivid lighting situation. In its place, side light and lateral overhead light from the various geographical directions give distinction to most exhibition rooms. In the artificially lit rooms, which are both reasonable and necessary for a museum, no effort was made to imitate daylight, but rather to create a unique light quality with glass calottes for general lighting and spots for accentuation.
In the age of globalisation Kolumba wishes to mark a specific location with a collection and an architecture that complement each other and represent two thousand years of western culture in an unmistakeable manner. A location that will make a contribution to the identity of the city, the church and every individual.
One of the main challenges to the realisation of the architectural plans, continuing to build directly onto existing fragments, was to develop a suitable stone, and Peter >Zumthor already made suggestions in his draft for the competition. The warm grey brickwork was developed in several years of work; the stone, partly hand-finished by a Danish manufacturer, was named »Kolumba stone«. Its colour nuances range through yellow, red, green and blue. In this way it corresponds to the medieval remains of brick, tuffs and basalts. Its flat format with the basic sizes of 54x21 and 5x4cm permits its use on the >filter masonry as well as building up on the existing brims of the ruins. Careful execution of the masonry with manually prepared wide horizontal joints was performed by Polish masons employed by the firm of Heitkamp.
Even in the notice of purpose for the architecture competition the question of materials to be used was discussed in detail. In the context of the existing building remnants an attempt was made to grasp precisely the limit between the architecture and the material used in it on the one hand and the work of art on the other. The physical characteristics were also taken into consideration, in particular the storage capacity favourable to the >air conditioning system. Work on the project resulted in the following reduction: light-grey brick walls and clay plaster, flooring made of Jurassic limestone, terrazzo and mortar, ceilings made of mortar filled into formwork, window frames, doors, door frames and fittings made of steel; wall paneling and furniture made of wood, textiles and leather; curtains made of leather and silk.
Not only the urban or interior-space proportions of the architecture were based on large-scale working models, but almost every detail of the construction. While the former models were made of wood, concrete, clay and simpler >materials scaled at 1:10, 1:50 up to 1:100, the examination of details was tried on the 1:1 model of the original. For masonry, mortar ceilings, plaster and window fittings a model building was constructed in the yard of the Ursuline Grammar School so that construction variants could be tried out. The clay plaster wall and the artificial lighting were developed in public over a period of three years in a room part of original size used for exhibition purposes in the old museum on Roncalliplatz.
The idea of Kolumba as a »Museum of Contemplation« was developed from 1991 by the curatorial team directed by Joachim M. Plotzek and tried out in many exhibitions and events until the new building was opened in September 2007 (Joachim M. Plotzek, Katharina Winnekes, Stefan Kraus, Ulrike Surmann, Marc Steinmann). All thoughts about the architecture were related to this basic concept. Starting with the heterogeneous collection structure of the Diocesan Museum founded in 1853, Kolumba is conceived as an art museum under church sponsorship which wishes to present all questions of artistic design comprehensively without regard to categories and specialisations. As a museum of contemplation Kolumba represents an open space contributing to the debate on life turned into art.
Kolumba is open throughout the year, every day except Tuesdays, from noon until 5 p.m. Outside these opening hours, >guided tours and other >events take place (the museum is closed from “Weiberfastnacht” Thursday up to and including Ash Wednesday, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day). In addition Kolumba is closed for installing the annual change of exhibition from 1 to 13 September.
You are allowed to take photographs only for private purposes and without using a flash or tripod.
The »living museum« makes no distinction between permanent collection and temporary exhibition. Instead, it utilizes the flowing quality of the architecture, working with possibilities afforded by the concurrence and juxtaposition that characterize Peter Zumthor’s building. By altering the exhibition several times over the course of the year, Kolumba largely displays its own collection in changing contexts. Apart from a very few major works, which were created as site-specific pieces or those which are always in place as signature pieces of the museum, each year a new selection of works is introduced on September 15. Special exhibitions and artistic interventions supplement and change the context of this collection presentation. Characteristic of the almost private ambience are the absence of object labels as well as the interconnection of the works in a manner that is independent of their chronological, stylistic, or media relationships. The way the works are displayed always strives to achieve presence for the works of art.
Preservation of a historic monument
Considering preservation two things were important in the competition: Nothing was to be taken away, nothing was to be added! The architectonic concept was to preserve everything there was at the beginning of the 1990s without any judgement of what is worth preserving and what is not. Peter Zumthor continued building on what was already there and thus remained in the same tradition known to have existed as early as in the 9th century. This becomes obvious when looking at the ground plan and the outer walls of the Kolumba church which naturally are part of the new building.
»Kolumba – Ein Architekturwettbewerb in Köln«, Cologne 1997; »Auswahl eins«, Kolumba vol. 28, Cologne 2007 (all titles from the internal series of publications can be browsed on the >homepage).
The number of square metres finally achieved is very close to the number specified for the >architecture competition of 1997: 1750 sq. m. exhibition space (including foyer and staircases) spread across 17 exhibition rooms; in addition there are 900 sq. m. excavation area and about 600 sq. m. depot and 200 sq. m. storage space on two basement levels. Restoration and administration are allocated about 300 sq. m. The total cubage of the building is about 4500 sq. m.
The construction of the entire building is based on a steel support system in combination with massive masonry. Securing the ruins, creating a sensitive base in the archaeological material and bricking up on this foundation were special challenges. Dealing with them was the task of Jürg Buchli from Switzerland and of the Cologne architects Schwab-Lemke. The thirteen thin pillars on the excavation site were shifted by a few centimetres in cooperation with the archaeologists and placed where they are without damaging the existing structure. At the same time their arrangement prescribes the way the space is divided in the exhibition floor above them and joins the new ground plan with the old one. The supports correspond to others in the exterior walls; they were drilled through the former pillars of the Gothic church and anchored in the ground. They also carry the >filter masonry, which was not to weigh down on the walls of the ruins.
The large body of the building resulting from building upon the archaeological site, the >chapel and the earlier church of St. Kolumba makes it the centrepiece of the city district. The planning was accompanied by a detailed >model of all the surrounding buildings where the designs for the new building were placed in at all stages of development to test the general urban effect. Since the new building is placed precisely on the ground plan of the late Gothic church, its erection involves a restoration of the urban space tying in with the situation before the Second World War. The introduction of the >courtyard made the plot structure of the land clear. On the eastern side, marked by a variety of trees, the old passage was restored and improved as an urban space with continuous pavement and the planting of >trees.
At the end of the building project 17 trees were planted: 12 crowns of thorns (11 in the courtyard), a lime, an oak, a Zelkovia, a Ginkgo and a cherry tree. The trees are between 20 and 30 years old and were grown in a Dutch tree nursery.
In the destroyed vestibule of St. Kolumba’s church, a former single-storey building outside the ground-plan of the church, the symbolic laying of the foundation was celebrated on 24 February 1997, with the installation of the sculpture »The Drowned and the Saved« by the American sculptor Richard Serra. The steel sculpture stands above a crypt which houses all bones recovered from the site’s many crypts during the excavations of the seventies.
The website »www.kolumba.de« was created in 1998 to provide updated information and a growing archive of all exhibitions and activities. It is possible to follow the erection of the new building through several hundred annotated pictures.
The new building looks back on a planning history of 35 years: in 1972 the plan for a new building was made with the re-opening of the Museum on Roncalliplatz. In 1983 the first discussions about the building at St. Kolumba were conducted. In 1987 the museum’s board of directors approved a new building. In 1989 The Cologne Archdiocese took over the trusteeship for the Diocesan Museum and appointed Joachim M. Plotzek as director who, up to 1991, recruited today’s museum team with Katharina Winnekes, Stefan Kraus and Ulrike Surmann (with the addition of Marc Steinmann since 2001). In 1991 the Archbishop, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, made the decision for a new building at St. Kolumba. In 1994 negotiations with the parish resulted in the site being purchased. In 1995 the Priest’s Council voted almost unanimously in favour of a new building. In 1996 the Church Tax Council approved the new building project with only one abstention. Once the result of the architecture competition was obtained, in 1998 the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Diocesan Church Tax Council voted in favour of carrying out the project, and after that Peter Zumthor received his commission. At the end of 2001 the design ready for construction was presented to the public. Building work began at the end of 2002 and on 1 October 2003 the foundation stone was laid. On World Youth Day the entire ground floor was opened for the »1st view!« in August 2005. On 16 March 2006 the topping out ceremony took place. From 1 August 2007 the new building was ready to move into.
Peter Zumthor, born in Basel in 1943. Trained as a cabinet maker, designer and architect at the School of Applied Art in Basel and the Pratt Institute in New York. Since 1979 proprietor of a firm of architects in Haldenstein, Switzerland.
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