Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Frankfurt Museum of Ethnology

Frankfurt, Germany

1989 - 1996

The organization of this building arises from a need to preserve as many of the existing trees as possible while respecting the scale and the height of the adjacent villas. Conceived as a kind of “conservatory-museum”, this latest addition to the Museumsüfer, a line of museums along the river Main, is organized around a long, glazed ramp hall that opens onto the existing park and provides views of the Schaumainkai and Meier’s Museum for Decorative Arts.

In contrast to the standard, encyclopedic presentation typical of nineteenth-century collections, this museum exhibits its holdings as a series of set pieces housed in a sequence of top-lit and side-lit galleries. Extra care was taken to screen out direct sunlight by shielded monitors for the inward-oriented, top-lit upper galleries, while, in contrast, the lower floors open out for indirect light and lateral views over the court. The museum’s curatorial policy is to represent ethnology as a “unified diversity”, first through a series of independent, but linked, top-lit cubic forms, and then through alternative itineraries afforded by the plan. In this respect, the formal strategies adopted for the Museum of Decorative Arts and this museum are complementary in that the first consists of prismatic masses fed by an inner cruciform circulation system, while the second consists of the ramp-hall backed up by cubic pavilions along the Metzlerstraße.

To attract the casual visitor as well as to gratify the habitual museumgoer, large, dramatic exhibits, such as boats and a ceremonial house, surround the entrance hall. The ramp and a double-story bridge directs the visitor into the main galleries of the towers, housing the Indonesian, African, American, and Oceanic collections from the lower to upper levels, respectively. The sequence extends on the piano nobile, across Metzlerstraße, through a floating bridge/gallery connecting a second major ceremonial house exhibit. Open-air courts and the park proper are juxtaposed with interior spaces to create a constant dichotomy of inside/outside and to allow an integration of nature, art, artifact, and its means of display.

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