Folkwang Museum is a breathtakingly accomplished design. Located in Essen, in the far from rural Ruhr, it extends a beautiful late-1950s designed Miesian museum by the city architects and develops the principles established by the existing structure, much as a jazz musician might riff on the tune of a classic song. The result is a genuinely uplifting, light-filled public space, offering a serene and yet mesmeric mixture of inward-looking courtyards and external views out.
Its external cladding is of large panels of crushed recycled glass, giving a shimmering translucent finish which has more of the qualities of alabaster than glass. Inside, carefully detailed top-lighting systems in the galleries blend natural and artificial light and are of course capable of being completely blacked out. In the large, flexible temporary exhibition space, they have co-ordinated the lighting grid with a bespoke flexible but highly stable partitioning system than can easily be assembled and remounted to meet the requirements for each show.
David Chipperfield won the international competition organised by the city of Essen in 2007 and the building opened in time for Essen and the Ruhr to become the latest European Cultural Capital. The new building continues the architectural principles of the old one with an ensemble of six structures and four interior courtyards, gardens and corridors. All the galleries and ancillary rooms (old and new) are connected with no changes in level. A large open stairway leads into an extraordinarily spacious new entrance hall, conceived as open interior courtyard with a café, restaurant and bookshop. There are also a library and reading room, a multi-function hall, art-stores and restoration workshops.
Ever since it re-opened in 1960, (its predecessor having been badly bombed), the museum has been meeting room for the city as well as home to a world-class collection of 19th and 20th century art. Passers-by on the street and even people sitting in their own homes, thanks to the transparency of the building, have been able to admire the art. Chipperfield's new and impressive building continues that democratic tradition with its under-stated elegance and beauty.