Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum in Munich

Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum in Munich

By Frances J. Folsom
All it took was a new copper-clad addition, the installation of a geo-thermal heating and cooling system, and some LED lighting to transform an elegant yet out-of-date 19th century building in Munich. When architect Ulrich Hamann of the London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners undertook a four-year $79 million dollar renovation of the Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum in Munich, Germany, the results were both beautiful and smart.

The original buildings, a 19th century neoclassical Tuscan style studio and villa, were built by artist Franz von Lembach. In 1920, his family donated the property to the city of Munich with the stipulation that it be used as a museum. 

The first thing visitors see when approaching the Lenbachhaus is the letter sculpture designed by Munich-born artist Thomas Demand. The artist, whose works have been shown at London's Tate Modern, the Guggenheim in New York, and the Stadel in Frankfurt has created a contrasting statement to the brass facade. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

It was a daunting task, as the Lenbacchaus is the grand dame of museums in Munich. The centerpiece of what is known as Munich’s Art Quarter reigns over fourteen museums; Pinakothek der Moderne, Paleontology Museum, Museum Brandhorst, and the new Museum of Egyptian Art, to name a few.

Artichect Ulrich Hamann of the London-based firm Foster & Partners created a seamless addition to the 19th century Neo-Classical building that was home and studio of artist Franz von Lembach. For the Stadtische Galerie Im Lenbachhaus, as the new addtion is known, Hamann wrapped the exterior in brass. Making this eye-catching statement, he set if off from the palatial style of the museums that surround it. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

When the Lenbachhaus re-opens on May 8, 2013, visitors will be seeing, for the first time, a significant chunk of art from its avant-garde collection of over 30,000 artifacts. On display will be works by such artists as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Ellsworth Kelly, and Dan Flavin.

Danish artist Olafur Eliasson designed the stunning spiral shaped work of art that is suspended from the ceiling in the new main entrance. Eliasson named it "Wirbelwerk" after the concept behind its spiral shape he based on the Coriolis effect. This deflects moving bodies in a rotating reference frame onto a spiral shaped trajectory. This force has been known since Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis wrote about it in an 1835 scientific paper. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

The entire third floor of the new addition, the Stadtische Gallery, is given over to the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky. (In 1957, Gabriele Munter, Kandinsky’s former mistress, donated her collection of 1,000 pieces of Kandinsky’s work.)

Artist Franz von Lenbach built his studio in 1886, four years after he added his home. He commissioned German architect Gabriel von Seidl to design it in Neo-Classical Tuscan style. von Lenbach's intention was to build a monument to his art. He filled it with paintings and statuary from his many trips to Europe and furniture from Tuscany. When the villa was built, it was on the only road now called Luisenstrasse, that let up to the Nymphenburg Palace, (c. 1664) the summer home of the royal family of Bavaria. Because the royals would be passing it and going to and from their palace, the city of Munich set out rigorous rules for its design. In other words, the villa had to be stunning, giving the royals something nice to look at. And, it is. Today, 450,000 visitors each year enjoy von Lenbach's studio and home. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

The museum is also home to the world’s largest collection of art by members of the Blue Rider. This circle of painters was formed by Kandinsky in 1911 and lasted until 1914, when Kandinsky was forced to return to Russia with the start of World War I. The group was made up of Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and August Macke, who created what would become some of the most important artworks in the world. Separate galleries within the Stadtische will house art devoted to works by Blue Rider artists.

Architect Ulrich Hamann's rendering of the new addition to the Lenbachhaus Museum and Gallery; the Stadtische Galerie Im Lenbachhaus. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

Visitors to the Lenbachhaus Museum used to enter through the villa's front door. To the left is architect Ulrich Hamann's new entrance into the skylit atrium. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

Ulrich Hamann designed the outside of the Stadtische in the shape of a shoebox, wrapping it in sheaths of copper to reflect the 19th century saffron-colored studio and villa behind it. Wanting visitors to experience a work of art immediately upon entering, Hamann commissioned internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson to create an eye catching "bauble" for the front atrium. Suspended from the ceiling is Eliasson’s twenty-six foot long conical shaped work, Wirbelwirk, made of polished steel and 450 panes of colored glass that reflect light and shapes.

When the villa was completed in 1890, its architect, Gabriel von Seidl designed the peaceful Italian Renaissance garden that surrounds it. The café in the Foster & Partners addition will overlook the restored gardens. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

Meanwhile, some sixty percent of the expenses for the renovation went into things that can’t be seen. A state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system now pumps cool and warm water through the walls, keeping them an even temperature for the art on them.

Gone are the old flickering florescent lights, replaced by a new LED system that is a work of art. For each gallery, lighting artist Dietmar Tanteri designed LED lamps and light installations in the ceilings that use light emitting diodes that, when lit, resemble daylight. They’re controlled by a push of a few buttons.

Over the years, Lenbachhaus has had several renovations. Structural damage from bombings during World War II was never repaired properly until now. Ulrich Hamann’s stunning new addition and the advanced technology added throughout the museum has brought Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum into the 21st century.


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