How to extend a museum once conceived as a whole, without dismissing its consistency? The Kunst Museum in Sankt Gallen has been extended already once, unsuccessfully. This is no surprise, as the architecture of the original building, conceived by Johannes Kunkler, is very demanding and very dominant. It eats its transformations. An extension of the kind existing today, shows that any attempt to make or add another architecture is bound to fail. Against the backdrop of the apparent timelessness of the original museum building, any addition looks like a temporary remark, a remnant of a specific timeframe, an architectonic exercise that ages much faster than its mother form. To some extend this problem has been anticipated by the brief as formulated today. An extension should happen there where attempts were already done. To correct mistakes from the past, perhaps?
The existing building’s main quality is a rigorous spatial organization. In the tradition of the neo-classicism the building is part of, the rooms or spaces define a sequence with different light conditions. The building has (or at least should have) a rigorous vertical stratification. In the context of the extension, the best approach appears to us to copy what is already there. The intervention is extremely simple: when one reproduces the typical floorplan of the two existing (and succesfull) exhibition floors one gets another layer of the vertical stratification with entirely different light conditions. The New Kunst Museum is therefore an idealized version of the existing one. It presents itself as a stack of three very distinct museum conditions - in terms of light and orientation - within a similar plan.
In order to make this very simple idea possible, a lot of precise interventions have to be done.
First, each of the different floors have a specific relationship, through its openings and windows, with light and context. In order to make this also possible in the new floor, the projection of the plan is positioned within a rectangular perimeter. This creates the a context with a very specific light condition, different from the other two floors but clearly part of the same family.
Second, in order to idealize the layout of the existing plan under the current building, we developed a very specific structural ceiling. The design takes the existing forces, currently in the middle of the rooms, and deviates them to the walls. The specific, but well equilibrated ceiling-design gives a subtle identity elegant to each of the freed rooms. This new ceiling mediates structure and - more importantly - the light of each of the rooms.
Third, the complete surface of the new floor is significantly lowered. The floor directs and organizes the installations of the new museum floor. The mineral, polished brick floor is at the same time datum, carpet, and technical condition of the enfilade.
Fourth, the sequence of spaces thus created is organized through a specifically designed wall/door element. We developed a detail of a wooden door as part of a wall solution that makes the management (and the closing) of the different spaces possible. In two cases this idea translates in a jewel-box-like space that houses either auditorium or a special part of collection or exhibit. In any other case it is conceived as a door system that makes it possible to organize different sequences and parcours in the available set of spaces. The doors direct the show.
The result is an idealized version of the museum as it exists today. It is truly traditional and truly modern. It understands the museum as a collection of spaces to which it adds another well defined set. Each of the different sets creates different conditions, in light in the first place, in location, and in appliances. It makes no sense to fix things not yet outspoken, however it is fundamental to make the architecture of the museum to come. As a framework, it finishes the existing building as presents itself today, ready to be completed. It idealizes that what is available, as an invisible extension it creates a truly domestic landscape: an architecture that is super specific but very open ended: the only museum possible.