01.04.2022 Jakob Schoof

German Romanticism Museum in Frankfurt

© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert

“The art of making an object unfamiliar, yet familiar and attractive: that is the art of Romantic poetry”, the Romantic poet Novalis once wrote in his collection of fragments and studies. This quotation could have inspired the design of the German Romanticism Museum in Frankfurt. The museum is an unconventional ensemble erected by Mäckler Architekten on Großer Hirschgraben, next door to the house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born.

© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert

Above a base of red mottled sandstone rise the plastered façades of three townhouses whose picturesque diversity of shape has nothing in common with the uniform grey of the surrounding post-war architecture. The one exception is the Goethehaus next door, a Baroque structure that was rebuilt in 1951 after being destroyed in the war. There, we find the same colour palette of pale yellow, light grey and sandstone red, as well as the same storey-by-storey jutting of the façade.

Christoph Mäckler’s new museum building is anything but a neutral container for the Freies Deutsches Hochstift’s collection of paintings and manuscripts, which has been preserving the cultural legacy of the German Romantic period for more than 150 years. In a finely orchestrated interplay, architecture and exhibition design (a work by the Frankfurt studio Sounds of Silence) convey the world of ideas of the late 18th and early 19th centuries by means of pictures as well as moods of space and lighting.

© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert

An example: the Blue Oriel, whose lead glazing protrudes into the street space as an acute wedge over the main entrance. It was conceived as a reminiscence of the Blue Flower, a Romantic-era symbol of love and transcendence. The Stairway to Heaven, which connects all the upper levels directly behind the streetside façade, is also steeped in blue light. Thanks to its unconventional arrangement, it was just possible to give the façade a proportion of window area in keeping with the prevailing urban landscape, for no daylight may penetrate the exhibition spaces that are home to such sensitive artefacts.

© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert
© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert

In collaboration with the Sounds of Silence studio, the architects designed the three exhibition levels in very different ways. In the characteristic style of a classic painting gallery on the first upper storey; with a multiplicity of subject-related spaces on the second upper level; and sunk in the semi-gloom of old attics on the topmost floor. The result is a diverse voyage of discovery to an era which, in view of current widespread scepticism towards science and the rise in popularity of fantasy and historical novels, does not seem particularly distant today.

© Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Alexander Paul Englert

And the façade? With its postmodern look, it is hardly a suitable model for future building projects in Frankfurt’s city centre. But it perfectly symbolizes the Romantic poets’ break with bourgeois conventions. And it is just that, no more and no less, which gives fitting expression to this museum, in this location.

Read more in Detail 4.2022 and in our databank Detail Inspiration.

Architecture: Mäckler Architekten
Client: ABG Frankfurt Holding
Location: Großer Hirschgraben 21, 60311 Frankfurt am Main (DE)

Structural engineering: Bollinger + Grohmann
Building services engineering, building physics, acoustics: EGS-plan
Stair covering: Deppe Backstein                                                  Exhibition design: Mäckler Architekten, Sounds of Silence
Gross floor area: 3244 m²
Effective floor area: 2080 m²
Construction costs: 12 Mio. € (building), 6 Mio. € (permanent exhibition)

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