Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum A new contribution to the old city

Simplicity at its best. The new Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum is attracting art lovers and tourists with a keen interest in architecture. It was decorated with the Deutscher Architekturpreis 2013.

Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum | Photo: Roland Halbe It is something that is not uncommon today: a town is offered a private art collection as a gift, foundation or permanent loan, under the condition, however, that it has to build a museum to accommodate the art works. In Ravensburg, in Upper Swabia, it was Gudrun Selinka who wished to see her private collection of four decades made open for public viewing. Ravensburg, a town not far from Lake Constance, had recently made substantial efforts to establish the new Museum Ravensburger Spieleverlag as well as the ambitious Humpis-Quartier museum of cultural history. It therefore eagerly welcomed the offer made by a local building developer to privately finance this third new museum and to let it to the city on a long-term basis.

Brick building with patina

The design competition was won by the Stuttgart architects Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei with a concept that first appears to have no association with Ravensburg’s picturesque old town and its stucco gabled buildings – but when looked at more closely this design is able to silence any criticism in this respect. The archaic looking cube that resembles a fortress communicates with the city walls next to it. The walls of the building already have their own patina as they are built out of recycled bricks to produce a spectacular glowing surface that is alive with flames of colour. The eloquent facade seems to be telling its own story. Along the eaves rhythmic arches of different sizes draw a cloud-like line against the sky, a barrel vaulted ceiling with alternating trapezoidal sections.

Ascetically refined and elegant

From a small forecourt a rotating door opens into the foyer. The reception area attunes to the character of the museum rooms that tend to be more ascetically refined than opulent, almost reserved and less loud. Rooms that are designed with simple materials and with the sole aim of serving their purpose. The reception desk is of cast concrete and already a work of art in itself with expressive and elegant lines. Once in the foyer the visitor is already immersed in a world of art. Here there is also space for small exhibitions. The light in the exhibition rooms comes from plain ceiling lights of equal dimensions, the floors are kept neutral in concrete grey. This neutral look is never overdone. It does not go as far as the white box, the design trend encountered so often in modern museum architecture. The walls on the first floor are designed in grey, and on the top floor the hall is dominated by the splendid unrendered brick vaults.

Designed to focus on art

Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum, Underground Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum, Underground | Photo: Roland Halbe A surprise feature in this otherwise colour-shy atmosphere is found in the basement where the toilet and service areas bring verve and colour. Covered from floor to ceiling in vibrant yellows and reds these rooms create an intense optical and sensual experience seldom encountered in such profane spaces. In the rooms that are left to the works of art the design is more reserved, allowing the expressionist colour blaze of the Selinka Collection and the thematic programme to unfold. This is a house that has been designed to focus on art, having regard to the objectives of simplicity, unlike the architectural sensations that are still making the headlines in many places. Such eccentric architecture, however, provides little joy for the curators.

High-calibre artworks

Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum Ravensburg’s Kunstmuseum | Photo: Roland Halbe The Selinka Collection comprises 230 works of German Expressionist art. It also includes works from the COBRA art group (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) that was formed during the years 1948 to 1952 under the influence of Asger Jorn and Constant, as well as a further selection of work from the Munich art group SPUR, that was active between 1957 and 1965. On the top floor, beneath the vibrant vaulted ceiling, are high-calibre works of the classic expressionist painters Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller, Otto Dix, Alexej Jawlensky and Wassily Kandinsky - fortunately without crowding - and this allows them to develop an incredible aura. The top floor alone makes a trip to Ravensburg worthwhile. One storey lower, works from the period after the second world war enable us to follow expressionist tendencies up to the present day.

Director Nicole Fritz can now draw from a rich collection of works and also has space for large and smaller temporary or travelling exhibitions. Initially controversial because of its costs, most of the people of Ravensburg now respond to this new an ecologically exemplary building with great enthusiasm. It is also the “first art museum to be build to the passive house standard”, and besides attracting art lovers this museum building, decorated with the Deutscher Architekturpreis 2013, will also put Ravensburg, north of Friedrichshafen, on the route of tourists with a keen interest in architecture.