Cologne, a city in Germany, having a horrific past, the Nazis took over the city, emigrating the Jews with an airstrike that bombarded the city turning the entire city into ruins. The survivors of the war gathered the ruins of the important buildings of the city and memorials were constructed. Among these buildings, St. Kolumba Church was one of the oldest Romanesque churches; later during expansion it was replaced by the Gothic church.

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet1

After getting bombarded in World War II, most of the church was destroyed, leaving some exterior walls, the basement of the tower, the entrance hall, and a Gothic statue of Mary and turning them into ruins. In the memory of the church, an octagonal shaped tent-like structure with stained-glass windows and a marble altar designed by architect Gottfried Bohm. Holding significance in Christianity, the Society for Christian Art was formed to preserve and exhibit the artwork from Christianity, in 1853 which was overtaken by the Archdiocese of Cologne in 1989.

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet2

To preserve this artwork and exhibit it, this society organized a competition for architects to design a museum and to relocate the artwork from Cologne Cathedral to Kolumba Church. Off all the proposals received, one proposal which has a simple, minimalist approach yet an elegance to make a statement within the context by Swiss Architect Peter Zumthor got selected.

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Swiss Architect Peter Zumthor proposed a thin envelope, which merges itself with the ruins of the church, housing 16 exhibition spaces, a library, space to worship, with a courtyard and a sculpture garden. In his proposal, he even included the memorial chapel known as “Madonna of the ruins” designed by Gottfried Bohm. As an architect, he understood the importance of the archaeological ruins and considered them as part of the structure, aiming to preserve the ruins and its significance in the city. At the opening of the Museum, Peter Zumthor said “They believe in the inner values of art, its ability to make us think and feel, its spiritual values. This project emerged from the inside out and from the place”.

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet4

To adapt the old, and in bridging the old to the new, the plan of the museum is achieved from the church’s walls as they are further constructed. The walls also have a contrast between the old and new, to merge with the ruins, and to stand out, these walls are built using handmade bricks known as Kolumba stones, plastered with clay plaster. These bricks were manufactured in the brick kiln owned by Petersen Tegl in Denmark, where they are made by the old method of hand-pressing wet clay in a wooden mould which is later baked in a coal-fired kiln. These bricks gave a very organic and elegant touch to the museum. The main museum is elevated above by thin tall circular columns, allowing a free movement. 

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An elevated pathway running across the ruins walks the visitors through the ruins, showcasing the tragedy that took place in Cologne. The temperature, humidity, air circulation, and the light required to preserve these ruins are maintained with the help of the perforated walls. This exhibition space showcases the chapel, which leads to the sacred praying space. To avoid any disruption in the interiors, a steel staircase was added to the exteriors. 

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet6
Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet7

A perforated facade creates a play of light, a contrast from the exterior, the exterior being bright and the interior spaces being dark and warm. In the entire project, light plays an important role in the spaces and their functions. The exhibition spaces are kept dark warm, and the circulation spaces are lit. The spaces which exhibit the artwork are kept dark and are dimly lighted to enhance the artwork. The circulation space with the exhibits is kept such that the diffused lighting falls on it and enhances the art. The perforated facade brings a diffused light inside the Museum, creating antique and warm lighting, with patterns formed on the ceiling. 

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet8

The interior walls are made up of concrete, holding the staircase leads to the exhibit displaying the Archdiocese artefacts and antiques, placed in the dark, dimly lit rooms with limestone floors matching with the walls. The walls and the floors create fluidity in the space, which helps in making the exhibits an eye-catching moment. The fluidity gets enhanced further with the silk curtains hand-sown which brings the diffused light inside.

Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet9
Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet10

A play in experiences is felt in the museum, where the exhibition spaces are dark, and the circulation spaces are dimly lit but the relief is experienced when one enters the secret courtyard and the sculpture garden. 

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Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor: A Modest Design - Sheet12

She is an architecture student , a dog lover , a travel enthusiast and a trekker. She is enthusiastic about writing and architecture so mixing both through architecture journalism. She has worked both in commercial architectural firms as well as a sustainable architecture firm and is juggling to find a balance between both.

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