Museum For Architectural Drawing
By Ulf Meyer
The new Museum for Architectural Drawing in Berlin is designed by Russian Architects Sergei Tchoban and Sergei Kuznetsov. It is ironic that during our times, when the art of architectural drawing seems to be dying, at the same time it gets increasingly appreciated as an art form.
For centuries sketches were the only way in which architects could conceive their buildings. But now, in the age of digital design, the art of drawing is on the way down. But even if hand drawing plays only a minor role, it is still maintained by architects as a technique, whose speed and ease is impossible to beat even for the most sophisticated software.
In Berlin the new Museum for Architectural Drawing is dedicated to this increasingly rare art form. Designed and initiated by the Berlin-based architect and collector of architectural drawings, Sergei Tchoban, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, the building resembles a stack of cubes. The slender tower of the museum is situated at the Pfefferberg, a former brewery in Berlin’s popular Prenzlauer Berg district. The Aedes Architecture Gallery is situated next door, creating a cultural campus. The Pfefferberg is named after Brewmaster Joseph Pfeffer, who started the business in 1841. Beer production ceased after World War I and the area fell dormant until the fall of the wall in 1989. It was then that the Pfefferberg transformed into a cultural district with restaurants, a hostel and the studios of famous artists such as Olafur Eliasson.
Tchoban commutes between Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin. Whilst being a successful commercial architect in Germany, Tchoban is also involved with a handfull of high-profile projects in his home country of Russia. One such project is Europe’s tallest skyscraper the Federation Tower in Moscow. In 2004 Tchoban founded another office called SPeeCH in Moscow. The design for the new museum was developed in collaboration with Sergei Kuznetsov. Tchoban sees himself as an active architect and philanthropic art collector who “wants to strengthen public awareness of the genre of architectural drawing”.
A stack of yellow concrete cubes
At first glance the building resembles a stack of yellow concrete cubes, untidily piled on top of one another, creating staggered bays and cantilevers. The floors seem to slide back and forth. This irregular setting provides for an increase in exhibition space whilst visually animating the façade. The facades are adorned with a fragmented decorative relief showing an abstract drawing which was turned into a three-dimensional mold and inserted into the concrete formwork. The façade pattern depicts the first architectural drawing Tchoban ever acquired: a drawing by Pietro di Gottardo Gonzaga, an Italian artist from the 18th century. The silicone molds create interesting reliefs in the walls; the farther away from the building visitors get, the more recognizable the picture becomes. Spread over the façade there are also different small, jagged windows. The little twists between the floors are enough to let the building stand out from some of the conservative architecture in Berlin. It also is different from much of Tchoban’s own work, which is typically straight-lined. Still, the striking four-storey museum adapts to its urban environment, with its proportions connecting to the neighboring buildings.
A niche along the street contains the museum’s entrance. Inside the foyer there is a library with built-in bookcases. The lobby has dark brown walnut wall paneling. The L-shaped spaces of the two gallery floors above have slightly bent walls. The exhibition cabinets are suitable for intimate exhibitions and designed with conservation of fragile drawings in mind: Electric light is used very sparingly. On the third floor the ‘L’ is divided into two parts, with the short leg opening up to a small terrace facing the street. On this little urban loggia there are three concrete cubes, used to sit on them, decorated with the same motives that adorn the facades. Above the exhibition floors there is the depot for the permanent collection, open to researchers only. This floor looks different than the ones below: It has an all-glass façade and two roof top terraces. The meeting room forms a penthouse with a view over Berlin.
Hall of fame
This little world of architectural drawings is a stylish and distinguished ‘hall of fame’. The design is holistic – even the door handles were designed by the architect and custom-made. While there is a glass elevator and a staircase with glass railings, exposed concrete surfaces and brass handrails.
Tchoban’s foundation already includes the works of leading architects from the 18th to the 20th century. Berlin’s new “Museum of Architectural Drawing” is a treasure of a private museum. While conceived as a ‘rich man’s toy’ it does serve the public.
Museum for Architectural Drawing. Photo © Roland Halbe