A build­ing for the arts and mu­sic be­tween the Cologne Cathe­dral and the Rhine

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.