The founding of the millworks in 1860 on the site of today’s Küppersmühle Museum traces back to the entrepreneur Wilhelm Vedder, who was instrumental in establishing Duisburg’s Inner Harbour as the “breadbasket of the Ruhr region”. Incorporating state-of the art technology, the first mill went into operation in 1900. In 1908 this original structure was then replaced by the current three-wing building – now converted into the museum. The company was taken over in 1912 by Werner & Nicola, which subsequently added the boiler house, replete with chimney stack. The adjoining steel grain silos were erected in the 1930s. In 1969 the company merged with the Homberger Küpperswerke, from which the name of the mill and the museum now derive. The mill was closed down in 1972.
From industrial building to museum
Based on the masterplan devised by the British architect Sir Norman Foster, the redevelopment of this derelict inland harbour into a multifunctional quayside service park was executed as part of the International Building Exhibition Emscher Park (IBA 1989-1999). Successfully applied in many other urban centres, this concept of creating a residential, commercial and leisure area on the waterfront was implemented in immediate proximity to the City itself. The disused mills and warehouses of the former grain port, retained as a distinctive city landmark, have now been converted into a mixed-use complex, incorporating, for example, the Museum for Modern Art (MKM), housed in the former Küppersmühle grain mill.
Redevelopment by Herzog & de Meuron
Commissioned to undertake the redevelopment were the internationally-acclaimed team of star architects Herzog & de Meuron. They succeeded, on the one hand, in preserving the industrial character of the historic edifice whilst, on the other, creating functional premises for displaying contemporary art. The brick facades of the old Küppersmühle were retained, and an exhibition space of some 3,600 sq.m. was created. The former 12 storeys were pared down to a mere three floors, each with a height of some 6 metres. Flooded by natural light, these spacious rooms are characteristic of the MKM, and - stripped down to their bare essentials – are possessed of a clarity of form. The high walls have been kept white, the floor rendered in grey Turkish basalt. The sole connection to the exterior are the narrow ceiling-high window slits which have been integrated into the facade and subtly structure the interior space. They offer characteristic views onto the Inner Harbour, lying immediately to the rear of the museum. Explicitly dedicated to “serving” art, the exhibition rooms have been designed to ensure that the exhibited art works take centre stage, and are not in competition with the surrounding architecture.
The only new addition is the staircase, attached to the front of the building, which each year attracts many visitors keen to view its impressive architectural features. By virtue of its roof pitch, it forms a visual continuation of main building. The winding stairtower – built from terracotta-coloured concrete and still bearing the visible traces of the formwork – draws our eyes inexorably upwards. Similarly, the broad terrazzo stairs furnish an invitation to ascend to the upper storeys. Designed especially for this section of the building, the light fittings take on the appearance of iridescent wax tapers. The meticulously hand-painted murals form an ideal counterpoint to the warm, terracotta tones and highlight the staircase as an autonomous architectural work of art.
From 2016 to 2018 Herzog & de Meuron will realize an extension building to the MKM, providing another 2,500 sq.m. of exhibition space.