UN Studio's Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart takes the spiral form of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim and adds about 1000 horsepower
The £53m Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart follows the basic model laid down by Frank Lloyd Wright at the 1959 Guggenheim museum in New York. Visitors take in the exhibits by wandering down a ramp that spirals around a central atrium. But being the product of the computer age, the Mercedes-Benz museum has a far more complex geometry, as devised by Dutch architect UN Studio.
The 53,000 m² museum takes the baroque form of a double helix that interweave as they descend through nine floors. This results in a clover-leaf plan of three interlocking oval shapes that radiate outwards and overlap at the centre to create a hollow core or atrium.
Descending the double helix of spirals are two narrow ramps that skirt the perimeter of the building. These wind around nine level plateaux that are roughly circular in shape and house clusters of exhibits.
The ramps trace two storylines, exhibited on alternate plateaux. One comprises collections of cars and trucks; the other is a sequence of "legends" relating the history of the company. The museum spaces have diametrically opposed characters, appropriate to their different storylines. The legend rooms are sheltered and artificially lit, like theatrical spaces, whereas the vehicle rooms are brightly day-lit through encircling window walls.
A deliberate effect of the two interweaving spirals is that visitors are free to switch between ramps and cross-refer storylines.
Okay, so have you got your head round the geometry? Not quite? Don't despair: the architect has wilfully avoided any attempt at spatial clarity. Rather, UN Studio revels in the confusion.
"It will take you several visits to figure out the building," says
Ben van Berkel, senior partner at the practice. "At any point, it is difficult to know where you are precisely. You can be in the right space in the wrong place, or you can be in the right place in the wrong space. The building keeps unfolding, keeps surprising you."
A magical mystery tour, indeed. Just like bombing along in a dream sports car through a sequence of spaghetti junctions - though with infinitely more exhilarating scenery.
client: DaimlerChrysler Immobilien
architect: UN Studio (Amsterdam)
executive architect: Wenzel & Wenzel (Stuttgart)
exhibition designer: HG Merz (Stuttgart)
structural engineer: Werner Sobek Ingenieure (Stuttgart)
services engineers: Arup (London), Transsolar Energietechnik (Stuttgart)
cost consultant: Nanna Fütterer (Stuttgart/Berlin)