German architects successfully convert a coal washing plant into The Ruhr Museum
The new Ruhr Museum, in the coal washing plant of Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany, has been a special challenge for the museum and exhibition design of hg merz architekten museumsgestalter from Stuttgart. The cultural importance and the prominent stock of machines inside the building forced the exhibition designers around Prof HG Merz to deal with the spatial conditions in an innovative and careful way.
The exhibition design does not try to compete with the impressive spaces that attract so much attention. The design was given a discrete and versatile appearance that clearly contrasts with the buildings architecture and therefore is easy to identify. While the visitor centre in the coal washing plant contours the geographical structure of the Ruhr area's industry culture, the technical explanation of the machines inside the plant takes place on the memorial path. In the Ruhr museum both aspects step back into the background; the parts of the big machine‚ coal washing plant' dominate the exhibition spaces as silent witnesses.
Beside the formal restraint the concept of hg merz focused on the simplicity of the spatial structure and an obvious and intelligible guidance of the visitor. Together with the media agency jangled nerves and the communication designers of L2M3 the architects created a museum that is as unique as the building itself. After four years of planning and construction the museum opened its doors in January 2010.
The exhibition design rests upon a few basic ideas: Each exhibition area has a clear contentual focus, follows a distinct design approach and the former use of the building levels. The 24 m-level is the welcome level: Once the separation of coal and stone took place there, today the visitors are spread over the buildings offerings. The 17 m-level is the first museum level named ''the present". On the 12 m-level ''memory", the former coal bunker, objects of the cultural and traditional memory are shown. Finally the 6 m-level presents the history of the Ruhr area.