A secret garden, stone ruins, a uniquely dense archaeological site -The Kolumba Museum is built on top of the ruins of the late gothic Saint Kolumba Church in the city centre of Cologne, Germany, a city that was almost completely destroyed in Second World War. The two storey of exhibition room is designed by Peter Zumthor combines with the existing fragments into one complete building seamlessly.
In his design of the Kolumba Museum, the uses of materials well illustrate his awareness of the atmosphere and the senses. Zumthor’s design acclaimed the theory of phenomenological architecture, not only in terms of finished buildings but in terms of
how he thinks, makes and relates to everyday reality.
“It is built at 12m above ground level. Realization of this ambitious building was only possible by the use of micro piles bored into the sandy ground all the way through the over 600-year old walls of the destroyed church.”
The new building becomes part of the architectural continuum by maintaining the original plans. It was to be a living museum which shows objects from its own permanent collection ranging from the late to antiquity to the present. There are sixteen galleries of different proportions and lighting with a total floor space total of 1,750 m2. The precision of architectural details defines the boundary between architecture and the building materials used and the work of art to response to the context of the actual building structure. In addition, the physical properties of the materials used are a great concern, in particularly of their capacity for retaining the temperature of the rooms.
On the ground floor, L-shaped configuration offers a hard edge to the street and frames a courtyard on the site of the church’s former graveyard. A zigzag timber walkway crossing the Roman ruins to a small courtyard. The natural light is diffused through the façade
at the ground floor, acting as a filter. The low pendant lighting creates a contrast between lighter space and darker spaces. The architecture sets the lighting condition; however define the perception of space at the same time.
Material plays a key role in Kolumba, especially the brick. The uses of bricks give expressions to the light which allows the perception of the space of the museum’s ruins and creating a peaceful ever-changing environment. The lighting in the exhibition space is inseparable from the brickwork: the colours, dimensions and pattern melds in the creation of a light grey brick. The bricks are unusually long and thin; they are all
some 36mm thick but vary greatly in length up to 520mm. This unusual brick size was suggested in order to adapt the new structure more easily to the fragmented existing structure of old Gothic Church. Besides, the mortar course are unusually thick, exactly half the height of a brick. It was created for the project to show a contrast in colour and texture to the ruin.
On the upper exhibition levels, the floor-to-ceiling windows continues to convey the narration of the architecture, allow visitors to view the city‘s surrounding city environment and its building. Its spatial structure was similarly developed from the ground floor plan. It links seamlessly to the northern building part, which is a completely new building with more galleries. It is also where the treasury, stairway, foyer, underground storage areas as well as the museum entrance. The sixteen exhibition rooms have different incoming daylights, pathway and proportion.
To Zumthor, architecture is not about form, it is about construction. Zumthor often challenge the way to assemble materials, and the way to combine or contrast. Zumthor developed sensitivity when trained as a cabinetmaker in his father’s workshop in Basel: Zumthor’s buildings are precisely done and concerned about the detail when crafting an
exquisite piece of furniture so it fits perfectly for human body which is able to tell the knowledge of its material and present in a space as an object to catch our attention.
Zumthor often describes some of his most vivid memories through the expression of texture and material. He begins, “There was once a time when I experienced architecture without even thinking about it, before he goes on to reveal a vivid illustration on childhood memories of the texture of a particular door handle, gravel under his feet and ―soft asphalt warmed by the sun. The phenomenon of materiality induces memories and emotions, reflecting on of the layers of this theory.”