When the donation contract between Peter and Irene Ludwig and the City of Cologne was signed in 1976 the Wallraf-Richartz Museum had already become too small to present all the artworks entrusted to it in an appropriate manner. The City Council and Administration thus decided to commission a new building, the Museum Ludwig, to jointly house the twentieth-century art holdings of both museums.
The location selected for the new “double museum” was an area between the east choir of the cathedral and the Rhine. The site was bound to the north by the railroad lines, and to the west by the Römisch-Germanisches Museum (Roman-Germanic Museum) and the cathedral. The project offered an opportunity to newly consider linking the area to the Rhine, long cut off by a busy state road and railroad line, since rail traffic at this location was to be discontinued in 1978. Automobile traffic was also to be routed through the Rhine Bank Tunnel, which was completed in 1982. The historic city center was thus once again able to open onto the Rhine.
An area of 260,000 cubic meters was converted for the structure—a volume corresponding to that of the Cologne Cathedral. That this immense volume avoids appearing daunting or oppressive has first of all to do with the complex’s superbly arranged and elegantly combined components. This is evident in the zinc-clad shed roofs, which contribute significantly to the building’s distinctive appearance within the cityscape. The facades are clad with bricks, whose vertical rows enliven the building’s exterior with their modest ornamental structure. Also helping to avoid a daunting appearance, the architects situated underground those parts of the complex not requiring daylight. These include the concert hall of the Philharmonic along with the technical spaces and parking areas.
Initially built for two museums, the building now houses solely the Museum Ludwig. Its holdings had been steadily expanded not least of all thanks to the Ludwigs’ sustained patronage. In 1994 the couple also donated their major Picasso collection to the museum. The liaison with the Wallraf-Richartz Museum was dissolved, and in 2001 the institution, renamed the Wallraf-Richartz Museum Fondation Corboud, opened in a new building of its own. Designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers it is located between City Hall and the Gürzenich festival hall.
Since the Museum Ludwig reopened in November 2001 it has been devoted entirely to exhibiting international art of the twentieth century; the presentation of its extensive holdings is regularly supplemented by large and small exhibitions of contemporary art. In 2003 and 2004 a few structural modifications were made according to plans by the architecture firm of Busmann + Haberer. Up to this time the floors and rooms of the two museums had been separated from one another; a stairway at the eastern end of the building connected them into a round tour. The area for changing exhibitions was completely independent from this. The installation of two additional stairways considerably eased access to the round tour, and spaces for changing exhibitions are now also included within it. The museum’s foyer, freed of its earlier interior fittings and more clearly organized, now serves as a passageway, where information on current exhibitions and events is posted. Since April 2022 the admissions and information desk is also located here. Located immediately behind the foyer is the “forum,” the name the architects gave to the large space with a monumental, impressive stairway connecting the museum’s floors. This area is free to walk in for all visitors. Thus even before visitors purchase their admission tickets or visit the café, which openly connects to the forum, they are able to get an impression of the museum and the art on display there. This stairway hall leads to the museum’s exhibition rooms, arranged on three floors along the length of the building. From the left side of the entrance, a few steps lead down to the changing exhibitions; displayed on the upper floors are works chiefly from the museum’s permanent collection, although individual rooms here are also used for changing exhibitions of varying sizes. From a continuous axis, the “museum or exhibition street,” small exhibition rooms branch off: on the second floor to one side, and on the third floor to both sides. Larger rooms alternate with smaller ones, and at the end of the museum street is a two-story hall offering space for larger installations. Here, at the eastern end of the building, stairs reconnect the three floors with one another, enabling round tours through all the rooms. Additional exhibition rooms, found on the second floor in the direction of the cathedral, now display Expressionist works. The round tour is strikingly enriched by windows that direct the gaze outside, to the Rhine, the cathedral, the Heinrich-Böll-Platz, or the Hohenzollern Bridge.
The diversified spatial concept offers visitors complete freedom of choice. They can decide whether they want to see everything, or to just concentrate on the works displayed in a particular area. Further exhibition rooms are located on the lower floor, adjacent to the foyer of the Philharmonic, and can be opened onto it. As such the exhibition areas comprise nearly 9,000 square meters.
Among the museum’s comprehensive cultural offerings is the highly esteemed Kunst- und Museumsbibliothek (Art and Museum Library), located on the second floor in the western part of the building, on the other side of the foyer. It has a separate entrance, as does the auditorium directly adjacent to it, which has been used and revitalized by the Filmforum NRW since 2005. The roof terrace above, directly across from the cathedral, is the site of numerous event series in summer.