On my recent vacation to the wonderful city of Berlin I visited two museums which couldn’t be more contrasting in their design and contents. First the Bauhaus Archive: Museum of Design‘ is a late work of Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus. It was planned in 1964 for Darmstadt and was built 1976-79 in modified form in Berlin’ (archive website). As a design educator and writer it was an inspiring place to spend a few hours viewing work by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and one of my favourite architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Students of art, design and architecture should visit this at least once. One minor criticism, the visual communication is inconsistent, captions for work and information panels vary in their quality and typographic detailing, this is disappointing given that the architecture and the exhibits communicate detail, consistency and potency.
The Topology of Terror museum does not suffer from any inconsistencies and is a remarkable experience. Unlike the Bauhaus archive which promotes creation, craft and optimism, the Topology of Terror documents destruction, annihilation and genocide. The museum stands on the site of the Gestapo headquarters, the Nazi’s secret state police. The site is flanked on one side by the remains of the Berlin Wall – a monument in its own right – that is accompanied by an open-air exhibition.
The museum building (housing the permanent exhibition, library and conference rooms), and the rocky landscape in which it sits, is the result of a design competition launched in 2005 and was completed in May 2010. It is functional, grey, light in structure but heavy in atmosphere. Once inside the visitor is enveloped in an experience which is a contrast between architectural delight, and an overwhelming sadness for what the building represents.
The permanent exhibition is precisely and elegantly designed by Ulm-based studio Braun Engels Gestaltung. Comprising a mixture of hanging graphic panels and interactive displays the visitor is guided through a maze-like tour in almost total silence. The climate controlled building occasionally interrupts the monastic peace with a sinister mechanical sound of the automatic opening and closing of ventilation windows.
This museum is not for the faint hearted, the photographic depiction of Nazi brutality is presented without any censorship, and like the architectural meshes, grills and glass, a sense of openness and transparency is generated by the exhibition, history laid bare and as fact, it was a sobering experience.