After World War II, Cologne developed into a thriving art centre, achieving a level of excellence that was rooted in a long tradition. The city had exceptional museum collections that had been saved from destruction during the war. Among the numerous significant museums it boasted was the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, for which Rudolf Schwarz erected a new building in 1957 on the site of the previous structure, which had not survived the war. Its holdings, which initially encompassed works from the Middle Ages up to 1900, grew in 1946 to include the Haubrich Collection, consisting predominantly of Expressionist works. These, together with other examples of classical Modernism, laid the foundation for the Modernist section of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, from which the Ludwig Museum evolved in 1976. As a result, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum was no longer in a position to present all the artworks entrusted to it in a manner commensurate with their range and significance. The municipal authorities therefore resolved to have a new building erected to house the holdings of both museums. The site chosen for the new ‘double museum' was situated between the eastern choir of the cathedral and the Rhine. It was bounded to the north by railway lines and in the west it adjoined the Roman-Germanic Museum, built in the 1960s, and the cathedral. A busy main road and a railway line had long separated this location from the banks of the river to the south, but rail traffic along the line was to be discontinued as of 1978 and there were already plans to conduct road traffic underground through a tunnel, completed in 1982. This opened up the prospect of the Old Town being linked with the river once again.
An area of 260,000 cubic metres of space - half the volume of Cologne Cathedral - was newly enclosed. That this huge volume does not appear oppressive and overwhelming is due in part to the neatly arranged and carefully structured shape of the complex, exemplified in the zinc-clad shed roofs. The grey covering material extends a long way down the supporting walls, giving the building its distinctive overall appearance. The facades have a brick finish consisting of vertical rows that enliven the surface structure. Another reason for the lack of oppressiveness is that the architects placed below ground those parts of the complex that do not require daylight. These include the mechanical service rooms, the parking spaces and the concert hall.
The building that was originally designed and built for two museums now houses the Ludwig Museum alone. Thanks to the uninterrupted patronage of Peter and Irene Ludwig, its holdings had grown steadily; then, in 1994, the couple decided to donate their major Picasso collection to the museum. The liaison with the Wallraf-Richartz Museum was terminated and, in 2001, the renamed Wallraf-Richartz Museum & Fondation Corboud was provided with a new building of its own, designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers to stand between the Town Hall and the Gürzenich festival hall. Since it reopened in November 2001, the Ludwig Museum has focused on exhibits of international 20th century and present-day art. The presentation of its extensive holdings is regularly supplemented by large and small exhibitions of contemporary art. In 2003 and 2004 a few structural modifications were made to plans by Busmann and Haberer. Originally, the floors and rooms of the two museums had been kept separate; a staircase in the eastern tip of the museum complex enabled visitors to proceed from one part to the other. The area reserved for temporary exhibitions was self-contained. A tour of the whole museum, including the rooms used for temporary exhibitions, was made much easier by the insertion of two additional staircases. The museum's entrance hall also serves as a passageway where information is posted on current exhibitions and activities in the building. A number of internal fittings were removed here as part of the modifications, and a more open arrangement was introduced. Immediately behind the entrance hall is the Forum. This is the name the architects gave to the space with the large and impressive staircase that connects the museum floors. The customer service area is located underneath the staircase. So even before visitors buy tickets or have something to eat or drink in the adjacent café, they are able to get an impression of the building and the art exhibits it contains. This staircase hall takes visitors to the exhibition rooms arranged on three floors along the length of the museum. To the left of the entrance a number of stairs lead down to the temporary exhibition rooms. The upper floors mostly contain works from the permanent collection, although here again individual galleries are used for temporary exhibitions of varying dimensions. The upper floors have galleries leading off from the uninterrupted axis that is referred to as the ‘museum street'; on the first floor they are only on one side of the axis, whereas on the second floor they are on both sides. Large galleries alternate with small rooms. At the end of the ‘street' a space rising over two floors provides a setting for large-scale installations. Here, at the eastern end, staircases again connect the three floors, thus enabling visitors to make their way through all the galleries. Other exhibition rooms are to be found on the first floor in the direction of the cathedral. Expressionist works are now on exhibition here. The tour of the museum is further enhanced by a series of openings that afford views of the Rhine, the cathedral, Heinrich-Böll-Platz and Hohenzollernbrücke bridge.
The varied spatial concept offers visitors numerous options. They can decide themselves whether they want to see the whole museum or prefer to spend more time looking at the works on show in a certain section.
The text is taken from Neuer Architekturführer Nr. 149 Museum Ludwig & Kölner Philharmonie, Stadtwandel Verlag. It is available in german and englisch in the bookshop Walther König for 3 €.
Additional exhibition rooms are located on the lowest level next to the foyer of the Philharmonic Hall and can be opened to merge with it. The overall area of the exhibition spaces thus amounts to around 10,000 square metres. But there is more to come. The range of cultural services provided by the museum includes a library in the western part of the building opposite the entrance passageway. It has its own entrance, as does the cinema auditorium, which the North-Rhine Westphalia Film Forum (a society of eight partner organisations) has used since 2005. The roof terrace above, directly opposite the cathedral, serves as an open-air cinema in the summer. It is well worth returning to the complex some time on a summer evening just to enjoy watching a film in this incomparable setting.