Museum of Art Moritzburg

Museum of Art Moritzburg

Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
Halle (Saale), Germany | View Map
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©Roland Halbe

Museum of Art Moritzburg

GSE Ingenieur-Gesellschaft mbH Saar, Enseleit und Partner en tant que Structural Engineers.

Can an image implicitly contain a space or an architectural idea? Can it hide the project that one day will have to transform that which it represents? Like some paintings that are represented themselves on the canvas, or like a book of books that could be the matrix of literature as a whole: can an architectural work act as a mirror of another work that it seizes? Our intervention in an old German castle stemmed from this strange fiction: an architecture as a text written (built) by others, in another time, for other uses, that nonetheless contains the laws for its own transformation. Two works displayed at the Moritzburg Museum marked the project’s start: an 1850 oil painting by Carl Triebel depicting the walls of the fortress in ruins, and a view of the roofs of the Marienkirch painted by Lyonel Feininger in 1930, when he had his workshop in the old tower of the castle. These two paintings seem to refer to opposite conditions: the desire to blend with the place, and the need to rise above to attain an impossible weightlessness. The massive walls of the castle are anchored to a terrain that has survived wars and fires, at the same time that the roofs point upward, pretending to defy gravity. Together these elements form a synthesis of the essential archetypal opposition in which all architecture is generated.

The Moritzburg Castle is a significant example of German military and religious architecture of the late fifteenth century. Built as an archbishop’s palace, its conflicted history has been reflected in the different interventions that have altered it over the centuries. Since the collapse of the north and west wings during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), the image of the fortress as a ruin has remained as such until now, and the citizens of Halle have identified the building with that image for over three centuries. Despite consecutive alterations, the building has maintained the formal structure of its major original architectural elements: the perimeter wall-precinct, three of the four circular towers on the corners, and the central armory court. Reestablished as a museum in 1904, it once housed one of the best collections of Expressionist and classical modern art, reduced during the Nazi period, when the works of Paul Klee, Feininger, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and other artists were considered an utmost expression of “degenerate art.” With the exception of an unbuilt project from 1829 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, which proposed the transformation of the castle into a university, it was not until 2004 that the Sachsen-Anhalt administration decided to undertake the reconstruction, expanding the museum with new permanent and temporary exhibition galleries.

Our project for the transformation of the Moritzburg Castle set out the following question: is it possible to reconstruct, starting from the representations of the place itself, an architecture that connects symbolically with the past and reveals its contemporary condition to recompose reality? The project emerges paradoxically from a narrative structure suggested by the paintings of an exhibition. The sequence of exhibition spaces is always interrupted by the memory of the ruin associated with the castle, by the triangular surfaces decomposed in Expressionist works, but also by our own previous experience. The architectural proposal then emerged from an intuition that marks every posterior decision: a new roof conceived as a large, folded platform, which rises and folds to emit natural light, and from which two new exhibition spaces hang. This operation frees up the western wing from the presence of the old ruin, which allows for the re-creation of a unique large-scale space, column-free, and offering different exhibition opportunities. A new roof landscape -clad in rigid aluminum panels- establishes a dialogue between its angular geometry and the irregular volumes of the sloping roofs of the castle. The pyramidal skylights, positive and negative, express through their variations that architecture is a combinatorial art; that our task, in the end, is to find the relative position of its elements.

The new intervention in the Moritzburg Castle aims at protecting the ruins that have represented it for centuries. It does so by keeping the existing building intact, and superimposing a light structure that evokes the works displayed inside. The works of Caspar David Friedrich, El Lissitzky, Edvard Munch, and Klee from the original collection are now accompanied by those of Kirchner, Erich Heckel, and Emil Nolde, donated by Hermann Gerlinger, the owner of one of the most valuable private collections devoted to the Expressionist group Die Brücke, whose presence in the new halls of the museum compensates, in a sense, for the looting that occurred during Nazism and World War II. The pictures of the exhibition are thus incorporated into the new expansion, where, in our imagination, the museum’s architecture, its history, and its contents all merge into a circular process. It is a strange feeling that, since the project’s completion, makes us pause whenever we have returned to visit the castle

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