Museums reveal local and shared heritage. As cultural institutions embedded in the fabric of modern life, each museum serves as a window into history and human exchange. Made to promote understanding and provoke new ideas, these monumental buildings are inspired by spatial exploration. With some of the most influential museum projects in the world, Germany is home to a range of diverse institutions showcasing unique approaches to curating, taxonomy and spatial organization.
While some museums favor expressive forms and spaces, others frame architecture as the backdrop to museum collections. Exploring contemporary German museum design, the following projects represent multiple programs and scales. As architecture built around exhibition, the designs range from the geometric and tactile to the figurative and sculptural. Continuously unraveling from space to space, the museums are made to resonate with visitors while building new ways to experience history.
ANOHA—The Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin / Olson Kundig
Through the imaginative exhibits within ANOHA—The Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin, the museum gives their youngest guests a sense of hope and possibility. Located within an existing former flower market hall, the heart of ANOHA is a circular wooden ark, standing almost 23 feet (7 meters) tall with a 92-foot (28-meter) base diameter. The curvilinear ark complements the curved ribs of the Brutalist light scoops overhead, while the shift in materiality from concrete to wood offers a softening counterpoint to the existing space.
Kolumba Museum / Peter Zumthor
Situated in Cologne, Germany, a city that was almost completely destroyed in World War II, the museum houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years. Zumthor’s design delicately rises from the ruins of a late-Gothic church, respecting the site’s history and preserving its essence.
Neue National Gallery in Berlin / Mies van der Rohe
Created in 1968, the Neue National Gallery reimagined the traditional museum idea of a closed building with exhibition rooms into an open-plan, flexible space. The building is 64.8m long, with only 2 steel columns on each side, which free the corners giving the building a lightweight look. The Mies building has a clear and radical idea put on a very minimal, yet detailed structure.
Jewish Museum / Studio Libeskind
In 1987, the Berlin government organized an anonymous competition for an expansion to the original Jewish Museum in Berlin that opened in 1933. The program wished to bring a Jewish presence back to Berlin after WWII. In 1988, Daniel Libeskind was chosen as the winner among several other internationally renowned architects; his design implemented a radical, formal design as a conceptually expressive tool to represent the Jewish lifestyle before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Dornier Museum / Allmann Sattler Wappner Architekten
The plot for the Dornier Museum is located in the immediate vicinity of the runways at Friedrichshafen‘s regional airport. The aim of the museum is to present the technology of aircraft construction and the history of the Dornier plant, which was founded in 1922. In addition, links to contemporary history are to be established. Among the exhibits are veteran aircrafts some of which can still fly today.
James Simon Galerie / David Chipperfield Architects
As a continuation of Friedrich August Stüler’s forum architecture, the James-Simon-Galerie serves as the new entrance building for Museum Island, completing the ensemble between the Kupfergraben canal and Neues Museum. Together with the ‘Archaeological Promenade’, it forms the backbone of the master plan that was developed in 1999 and adopted as the basis for all further planning on Museum Island.
The State Museum of Egyptian Art / Peter Böhm Architekten
The extraordinary urban development with the large free square in front of the Old Pinakothek made it possible to close this square with a generous, quiet building in the south, which takes up approximately the proportion of the Old Pinakothek, vis-à-vis in the north, where the new building lies. The State Museum of Egyptian Art is buried like an archaeological excavation underneath the green forecourt.
Mercedes-Benz Museum / UNStudio
The Mercedes Benz Museum intricately combines structure and content. The Museum is dedicated to a legendary car; its unique structure has been specifically devised to showcase a collection in which technology, adventure, attractiveness and distinction are merged. It is also a Museum for people to freely move through, to dream, learn, look and let themselves be oriented by fascinations, light and space.
Vitra Design Museum / Gehry Partners
The Vitra Design Museum stands out as exceptional. With its sculptural form composed of interconnected curving volumes, the museum is the unmistakable work of Frank Gehry – an architect who has built a legacy for himself upon such structures. What may not be immediately apparent is the crossroads that this serene white building represents: it was in this project at the southwestern corner of Germany that Gehry first realized a structure in the vein of his now signature style.
Museum and Cultural Forum Arnsberg / Bez+Kock Architekten
The Sauerland-Museum, located in the historically listed „Landsberger Hof“, has been expanded to become Museum and Cultural Forum South Westphalia. To achieve this, the existing historical building from 1605 was extensively renovated in the first construction phase and the permanent exhibition was redesigned. Phase two comprised an extension building, located on the directly adjacent, 45-degree sloped lot which leads down to Ruhrstrasse and the Ruhr River.
Dresden’s Military History Museum / Studio Libeskind
Now the official museum of the German Armed Forces, the Dresden Museum of Military History has assumed varying and contradictory identities across its history. The building began its life as an armory, before becoming the Saxon Army Museum, followed by a stint as a Nazi military museum, then a Soviet and East German Museum. Uncertain of the institution’s role in the reunified state, the German government closed the museum and launched an international competition to redesign the structure.
Tchoban Foundation - Museum for Architectural Drawing / SPEECH
Berlin and Moscow based renowned architect Sergei Tchoban joined with Sergey Kuznetsov of SPEECH Tchoban & Kuznetsov, to create a space for architectural drawings. The museum provides a home for the internationally renowned Tchoban Foundation collection as well as for temporary exhibits from leading cultural institutions around the world. Architect and passionate collector Tchoban finally realized his dream to create the ideal setting for architectural drawings.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 18th, 2020 and updated on July 7th, 2021.