There’s no disputing the pristine, angular structure of Daniel Libeskind’s startling new extension at the Dresden Museum of Military History, just as there is no middle ground to how you respond ‑ you’ll either love it or hate it
For a structure that extends and connects two pre-existing buildings, Libeskind’s work is also intriguingly divisional. Just as IM Pei’s glass pyramids at the Louvre sparked controversy and divided public and critical opinion, so does Libeskind’s winning design (a competition was held in 2001), which boldly interrupts the original buildings’ symmetry.
The extension, a massive, five-storey 14,500-tonne wedge of concrete and steel, cuts through the 135-year-old former arsenal’s structural order. An 82ft-high viewing platform (the highest point of the wedge is 98 feet) provides breathtaking views of modern Dresden while pointing towards the exact area where the fire-bombing of Dresden began, creating a dramatic space for reflection. “I wanted to create a bold interruption, a fundamental dislocation, to penetrate the historic arsenal,” Libeskind said at the time of the museum’s public launch.
Now the official central museum of the German Armed Forces, the Dresden Museum houses an exhibition area of roughly 21,000 sq-ft, making it Germany’s largest museum. The project opened in October 2011, following completion by Zurich-based Architekt Daniel Libeskind with Studio Daniel Libeskind, with Libeskind himself overseeing the design.
The new façade’s openness and transparency contrasts with the opacity and rigidity of the existing building. The latter represents the severity of the authoritarian past while the former reflects the openness of the democratic society in which it has been re-imagined; the interplay between these perspectives forms the character of the new Military History Museum. Inside, in the original, columned part of the building, German’s military history is presented in chronological order ‑ now complemented in the new wide-open spaces of the five-storey wedge by additional exhibition areas focusing on thematic considerations of the societal forces and human impulses that create a culture of violence.
Libeskind’s extension at the Dresden Museum is aggressive and confrontational, and so it should be – war is itself an aggressive, confrontational and devastating thing, about which no one should ever be complacent. This is a work which forces us to have an opinion.