Launching of the expansion project at the Musée d’Unterlinden

1. Former municipal pool, 1906
Photo : Didier Rykner

14/3/10 – Museum expansion – Colmar, Musée d’Unterlinden – Famous worldwide for the Issenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, the Musée d’Unterlinden besides holding an important collection of 15th and 16th century Germanic paintings and sculptures also includes an archeological section and an extensive 20th century ensemble. Housed in the Dominican convent from which it takes its name, the reception and exhibition space in the museum are not large enough to display all of its holdings.

The city of Colmar has thus decided, in agreement wih the Société Schongauer which manages the establishment, to expand the museum with the purpose of doubling visitor capacity (now at 200.000 per year). A substantial part of the operation, a total of 28 million euros, is being financed by the city, the department the region and the Société Schongauer which have provided 24.5 million. The remaining 3.5 million will come from local and national firms through a fund-raising drive.

2. Herzog & de Meuron’s project for the expansion of the Museum
On the left, the former municipal poool
On the right, the new edifice for the collections
Photo : Herzog & de Meuron

The competition for the expansion project was won by the offices of Herzog & de Meuron, which has presented very attractive plans, on paper, and which would seem to respect the present structure [1].
One part of the extension will be housed in a building located right next to the convent, the former municipal pool (ill. 1), a structure dating from 1906 in an academic rather than Art Nouveau style ; the other will go up in a new structure behind the pool on a lot which is currently occupied by recent buildings of no particular interest. The new edifice, totally covered in bricks (ill. 2) appears to be very elegant. Eventually, it will house the 20th and 21st century collections, leaving more space for archeology and the old masters in the former convent. A small structure of the same material will also be erected at the corner of the pool building replacing a house which was destroyed.
The square located between the convent and the pool provided a view of the Sinn canal many years ago, but is today occupied by the freight station and the canal covered up. Plans for the expansion project would once again open up some of the canal and link these two parts of the museum though an underground walk.

3. Pool will be used as an auditorium
Photo : Didier Rykner

The plans to occupy the pool in Colmar obviously bring to mind another museum located in the same type of premises, the establishment in Roubaix. Although the architecture here is not as beautiful, the overall appearance is one of quality. The central atrium, housing the pool itself (ill. 3), will not be an exhibition space but will be used as an auditorium, since the pool will be covered over and filled. Let us hope that this will be done with great care so as to safeguard a maximum number of the original elements.

Studies are still underway and actual work is to begin in 2011. The inauguration is set for September 2013.

Didier Rykner, dimanche 14 mars 2010


[1] Nevertheless, we would like to remind our readers that this firm is responsible for the disastrous example of the Triangle tower in Paris at Porte de Versailles, an unfortunate architectural instance which we regret was ever built.

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