Founded in 1897, the redesigned Dresden Museum of Military History reopened in 2011 after a 22-year closure. The German government launched an international design competition which was won by Studio Libeskind. Daniel Libeskind’s intervention is an exhibition hall made of steel and concrete that creates a dramatic contrast with the pre-existing museum building. The annexe boldly marks an interruption in the neoclassical building figure with a sharp, monumental structure.
The project firmly expresses the architect’s beliefs that architecture should evoke emotion, and design should tell a story. The aim to provide an inspiring experience through architecture can be seen in most of Daniel Libeskind’s designs. It is clear that Dresden’s Military History Museum extension delivers a provocative message with its wedge.
Aiming to be opposed to everything in the existing building, the intervention is a massive, five-story structure with a pointy shape and modern materials such as glass, concrete, and steel. The old building has a neoclassical style characterized by simplicity of geometric forms and precise management of proportions, pursuing visual balance. However, the annexe crosses the centre of the former existing structure with acute angles in an unconventional form, typical of Daniel Libeskind’s work.
Therefore, the artistic expression is not unobtrusive at all, as the architect boldly proposed a form that breaks the symmetry and the order of the neoclassical building’s facade. The result is an intentionally unbalanced proportion that causes a stir among people who pass by the area.
Daniel Libeskind also states opposition to the architectural form of the old building by choosing modern materials. The glass has an important role in this objection, for its transparency contrasts with the building’s rigidness. The combination between glass and steel in architecture to represent an intervention made in a different time in history can also be seen in projects such as the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and Norman Foster’s transformation of the Reichstag in Berlin.
Although concrete cannot be seen as clearly as steel and glass from the main entrance, it is used inside the annexe to provoke different sensations along the pathway where visitors walk through the exhibitions. Concrete walls also separate the new exhibitions from the old ones.
At the top of the new structure, there is an 82-foot high platform for viewing Dresden’s skyline through the glass, and the shape’s angle points toward the area where the firebombing began in Dresden in war. Connected to a space of the exhibition about bombed cities, this site is where the architect has put more effort into promoting a space for reflection, aligned with the institution’s vision.
A New Look at History
Dresden’s Military History Museum was founded in 1897 as the arsenal of the Saxony army. Later, it became a museum of the Saxon, and then, at different times, it served as a Nazi museum, a Soviet museum, and an East German museum. In 1989, with a newly unified German state, it was shut down until the design competition in 2001, in which Daniel Libeskind’s design was selected as the winner, for it effectively fulfilled the aim to provide a new look at military history through architecture.
It is also interesting to notice that Libeskind was a child of Holocaust survivors, and this was not his first project with dramatic reflections about war and peace. The Jewish Museum, for example, is probably his most popular work, and as an anti-war museum, it has a similar approach.
Daniel Libeskind’s structure crashes into the facade like a meteorite, representing catastrophe. With this ambitious gesture, he wanted to penetrate the historic building aggressively to point out how harsh the wars and the Nazism totalitarian movement were to human history. The anguished angles in the form surely transmit the idea of destruction.
The contrast between the old and the new structures also states the presence of a new time with a new perspective, and it represents a symbol of Dresden’s transformation through the years with a hopeful vision towards the future. Libeskind’s architecture communicates that old concepts do not predominate anymore, and there are bright, fresh ones in the picture instead.
Nevertheless, both the architect and the institution had the aim to reframe military history rather than trying to destroy or hide the past. Actually, the architecture of the old building remains the same, representing that history cannot be erased. Historical facts will always be there; however, they can be shown in a different way so that people can understand how harmful events like wars can be.
The museum’s intention is an interesting paradox, but that does not mean that they are against the military. In fact, it means that they do not praise every part of military history and have a sensitive approach to the consequences of war, clarifying the seriousness of the facts.
Overall, Daniel Libeskind’s extension to Dresden’s Military History Museum provides a great lesson about how architects take history into consideration in their designs. It shows that history cannot be destroyed, but sometimes art and construction can provide a new perspective to it, raising people’s awareness and aiming for a brighter future.
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