Signs of Usage are Desired

architects Sergei Tchoban, Sergei Kuznetsov
project Museum for Architectural Drawing, Berlin, Germany
written by Christina Gräwe

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The signs of usage are desired, says Sergei Tchoban for his small, fine museum that has a character of a gallery. Opened in June 2013, the Museum for Architectural Drawing in Berlin is an extremely attractive addition, both from the outside and the inside, to the city not really lacking in museums. It was designed by Sergei Tchoban and Sergei Kuznetsov of the Moscow-based architecture studio speech.


Despite this demand which reflects the precise workmanship and partly intentional rough appearance of the building, the treatment of the exhibits calls for diligence and professionalism. Namely, the museum houses the Tchoban Foundation, a top-class collection of architectural drawings. Since its establishment in 2009, the Foundation has been working on adequate housing of the drawings from the private collection of Sergei Tchoban, in order to take them out of the closed archives, and make them available to the public. This is now possible on two exhibition levels of this building, which has six floors including the basement. The planned three to four exhibitions per year will not only contain the exhibits from the museum’s own holdings, laying emphasis on the works from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as the Russian Constructivist works from the 1920s, in addition to Tchoban’s own drawings and watercolors. The Foundation also collaborates with prominent international collections: on the occasion of the museum opening, it was Sir John Soane’s Museum in London with the borrowing of Piranesi’s Paestum collection. Other collaborations include those with the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg as well as the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The museum’s archive is available for research purposes by prior appointment.


The museum is striking and at the same time adjusted – its proportions create a connection to the neighboring buildings on the right side, a row of typical Berlin apartment rental buildings from the turn of the 19th  to 20th century, with a 22-meter cornice. The new building takes their characteristic attributes, such as bays and loggias, interpreting them in abstracted forms. Because of its twisted and slightly protruding components, the building evokes overlapping bundles of papers. The architects’ motif was a set of drawers where drawings are stored, but still, this trick does not exclusively serve the purpose of symbolism. In fact, on this small plot, the building elements, rotated and projecting in relation to the building line, serve the purpose of adding additional floor area on the upper levels. At the very top of the building is the glass penthouse with a one-meter protrusion on the northeastern front. The underside of the protrusion is clad in highly polished stainless steel plates which reflect the portion of the paved square in front of the building and the people passing by.


The color and textures of the facade are again a clear reference to the purpose of the building – the color of the concrete is sandy yellow, and the architects deliberately evoke a yellowed paper of old drawings. Apart from surfaces with continuous grooves, the exterior walls are covered in reliefs of abstract drawings generated with matrix formwork. These patterns were not created completely by chance – a single sequence is repeated on each floor. A good decision, or otherwise, the appearance of the facade would be far too restless. In order not to interrupt the reliefs with the slabs, as it would require painstaking efforts to achieve transitions, the architects opted for an unusual structural solution – they placed the load bearing walls directly on top of one other, and suspended the thermally insulated ceilings between them. Small, polygon ally serrated windows on the external wall of the building have an irritating effect. They are made of stained (cast) glass which refracts light. In some places, windows have been adapted to the facade drawings, in other, their positions appear to be random.


The main entrance is hidden in a deep niche on the street front. Here the material was changed by using wood. The doors appropriate grooves from parts of the facades – the motif is found throughout the building, even on the door handles. The interior welcomes the visitor with a library atmosphere, not only because of the built-in bookcases in the lobby. The entire space, as well as chairs and, in particular, designer tables, are brown. The relief on the external membrane continues on the walnut wall lining. The bright steel surface from the underside of the topmost floor is repeated on the ceiling, mirroring the double pattern of the wall lining. In addition, the relief lines are lighter so that their effect in this relatively small space seems almost too dominant.


The staircase is simpler –sand-yellow concrete walls, stone-gray concrete stairs and handrails of the glass balustrades in brass, leading down to the toilets and service areas (the sanitary facilities were designed by Tchoban), and up, in the direction of the two gallery levels. The stacked construction volumes, readable from the outside, form the two L-shaped spaces with slightly slanted walls. This, however, does not block the space because the resulting windowless cabinets, the little treasure troves of delicate drawings, are very suitable for intimate exhibitions. For conservational reasons, artificial lighting is used very sparingly, which adds to the atmosphere. On the second floor, the L is divided into two parts. Here, the shorter arm opens itself to the street and square in the form of a glazed loggia. In this place one can catch a breath from the intensity of the interior, or even sit on the concrete cubes with the already familiar relief. Finally, on the third floor is the treasure trove – the archive. The question is how long there will be enough space for the ever growing collection.


Finally, at the top, there is total light. The area is, however, not intended for the public. Too bad, because the conference rooms, with its elegant built-in furniture, a kitchenette, and a fully equipped bathroom with a shower, floats like a glass nest above the concrete blocks. With two roof terraces, oriented towards the west and the east, it would be a magical penthouse. To the southeast is Pfefferberg, the site of a former Berlin brewery, now used for cultural events. Among others, the monumental heritage buildings house the Aedes Architecture Gallery and the Studio Olafur Eliasson. But the neighborhood is by no means afraid of competition. On the contrary, what they expect are synergistic effects. As the name of the museum already clearly implies, its program is entirely devoted to its very own special task – the classical architectural drawing and its research.