Addition to the Villa Metzler: Richard Meier’s Kuntshandwerk, Frankfurt, Germany

by Kristina Nugent

Fom the most classical structures to the most avant guarde, architecture is arguably the most recognizable symbol of human civilization. When architecture meets art, this union poses an even more challenging, but potentially even more powerful cause for celebrating humanity. As Ada Louise Huxtable wrote, “The connection between container and contents has been an uneasy, ambivalent, consistently controversial, and passionately debated subject … The ambience provided by the setting can diminish the art or raise the viewer’s responses to an exalted level. The relationship is the secret of a great museum.”

In the upcoming three posts, I will investigate the “alternate narratives” embodied within three very different examples of additions to historic museum buildings. By calling these “alternate narratives” I am attempting to engage both the historic building, the addition, and the contents of the museum collection in a dialogue. Then, my goal is to critically evaluate the combination on the basis of whether the sum of the two buildings has produced a meaning, carried through the contents of the collection, that is even greater than that of the original parts.

Linking historic buildings to contemporary additions may suggest a fundamental disconnect between the time and age of historic and contemporary design. However, adopting what could loosely be defined as a post-structuralist argument, the unity of old and new can produce something new indeed:  a manifesto that can be read as both a statement on the agility of architecture to embrace a new impulse, and also one that effectively grounds itself within the complexities of interpretation and reception within a sociological and environmental context.

Addition to the Villa Metzler: Richard Meier’s Kuntshandwerk


Frankfurt and the Museumsufer Initiative

The history of the development and planning for a new cultural area within the City of Frankfurt was spearheaded in the mid-1970s by the local Frankfurt architect Till Behrens (grandson of the famous German architect Peter Behrens), who advocated for the creation of the Museumsufer, or “riverside museum promenade” on the south bank of the Main River between the Eiserner Steg and Holbeinsteg bridges. Behrens, who received wide popular support for his cultural initiative, was successful in convincing Frankfurt city officials of the wisdom of his proposal and in securing the necessary initial funding. Behrens’s proposal drew from an understanding of the existing landscape of the proposed Museumsufer site.


This section of the river Main included a number of 18th Century patrician villas, accompanied by a designed, park-like landscape. Most of the landscape along the river had been spared from World War Two bombings, unlike other parts of the city of Frankfurt, and had come to be regarded by many residents as a cherished historic resource to be preserved.[i] The vision of the Museumsufer initiative embraced the dual purpose of “Helping to preserve a part of the city that was facing demolition, in that old buildings have been converted to new uses,” and on the other, that the initiative would become the “figurehead of a new public consciousness.”[ii] In the 1980s and 1990s, the initiative was partially realized with the creation of thirteen new museums adjacent to the River Main. Of the thirteen buildings constructed during this time, some of the museums were entirely new purpose-built structures, but most interesting, were the various devices used by the architects to link new museums programs and accompanying structures to the historic villas.


The Villa Metzler

Of all of the historic villas located on the River Main, the Neo-classical-style Villa Metzler was considered to be the oldest and most venerable. By the 1970s, the Villa had already been converted into a museum for decorative arts.[iii] It was accepted that the Villa Metzler, which had been originally designed as a private residence was, “…naturally not at all suited to the needs of [showcasing a decorative arts] collection.”[iv] Also, the gradual expansion of the museum’s collection, which was gaining a reputation as “one of the most important specialist collections in Germany,” was too large to continue to be housed inside of the historic building.


The Competition

The City of Frankfurt sponsored an international architectural competition for the design of an expansion of the Kuntshandwerk since they recognized that an expansion was necessary in order to provide for the public display of the ever-growing collection of decorative art objects ranging from stemware to furniture. The design competition guidelines stated, “The still intact park landscape should be preserved; and it was around the Villa Metzler that the whole concept was to revolve.”[v]

This moment in architectural history, as it is retrospectively understood, coincided with the transition away from the International Style typified by Mies and CIAM. The masters of modern design were being challenged by the spread of a new architectural paradigm that originated with Aldo Rossi’s publishing of the pivotal theoretical text, The Architecture of the City in 1982. Not surprisingly, the top entries were those which embraced the new architectural philosophies, specifically the designs submitted by the so-called “Post-Modernists,” a term coined by Charles Jenks, which included work that originated in the work of the “New York Five,” which eventually became divided between the “Grays,” defined by the work of Robert Venturi, and the “Whites,” who included Peter Eisenman and Richard Meier. Meier, specifically, was influenced by the historical work and philosophy of Le Corbusier, but at the same time he departed from the modern master’s designs in the sense that Meier was engaged in other discourses and “moves an old vocabulary, redefined by a new vision, into new explorations of spatial geometry.”[vi] The judges recognized and could appreciate Venturi’s design that embraced “Complexity and Contradiction,” ultimately, the winner was announced in 1979: Richard Meier.


Meier’s Proposal

There are several reasons why Meier’s work resonated with the programmatic and aesthetic agenda of the Board of Directors of the Kuntshandwerk. His design seemed to weave both the historic context of the Villa Metzler and more forward-looking aspirations underlying the Museumsufer initiative. The success of Meier’s design for the Kuntshandwerk addition was later analyzed Kenneth Frampton, who observed that, “Altogether, Meier was to engage in a more brilliant and subtle contextual game than his competitors, immediately exploiting the existing urban fabric and the history of the site for all its worth, while still implanting a rigorously abstract architecture on the four corners of the available territory.”[vii] Specifically, Meier’s design did not just acknowledge the historic presence of the Villa Metzler but left the building, and with it its historical meaning, intact by retaining it as a freestanding entity that was not physically integrated into the new design.


Meier proportionally integrated the dimensions of the historic building, a 17.6-meter cube, as the proportions he used to scale his design for the new museum building.[viii] This was partially an effort to moderate the difference in height and bulk between the residential-scale villa and necessarily larger new museum building. While the proportions of the addition undeniably reinforced the importance of the Villa, the design of the addition came to encapsulate the stylistic preferences and devices of Meier since using a square grid, as the origin of an architectural design happened to be Meier’s modus operandi. However, the sensitivity demonstrated by Meier’s decision to scale the addition and articulate its movement vectors counterclockwise through the sequence of individual rooms was laudable. Views of the Metzler Villa and its surrounding landscape are seen from every room of new gallery. One author noted that, “A variety of features links the interior with the exterior, integrating the ensemble of buildings quite organically into the park, which, with its system of paths, gate designs, and fountain is like a continuation of the museum in the urban space. Inside, a series of ramps conducts the visitor informally around.”[ix] The entry function employed by Meier was important preserving the jewel-like integrity of the villa within the larger composition. The main entry to the museum is through the addition, and the visitor is led through the gallery spaces, up to the second floor and across a bridge that leads into the Villa, which holds the Rococo and Neoclassical art collection. By creating this procession, Meier does more than symbolically integrate the two buildings; he physically connects them to establish an even greater experience. The visitor is quite deliberately led to observe the villa along the journey through the new museum, and only after that does he enter into the historic building, which by that point, functions as the culmination of the passage through the collection.


Evaluation of Meier’s Design

Criticism of Meier’s new building has centered on its “gleaming white galleries,” and some visitors claimed that, “The museum’s collection of traditional German furniture and household objects (walnut wardrobes, stoneware jugs, and the like) is diminished by the perfectionist, clinical setting, and looks dingy.”[x] Whiteness of spaces was thought by Meier to enhance the delicacy of the decorative arts objects, and was inspired by Chinese porcelain, which is a device that he has employs in his greater repertoire of museum buildings with much éclat. What possibly explains Meier’s confidence in his interior gallery spaces is that, “Unlike most other architects, Meier has long harbored aspirations to being a painter, sculptor, and collagist, occasionally exhibiting his works. Like many of his co-professionals, Meier apparently does not want works of art to give his buildings undue competition.”[xi]


When he was designing the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the trustees insisted that the pre-selected interior designer design the interiors for the Getty’s furniture and tapestry collection. After designing this museum in Frankfurt, Meier presumed himself to be knowledgeable on the display of decorative arts objects. However, the Getty trustees did not share Meier’s perception of this own talent and requested that he limit his input to the design of the envelopes. Yet, even in that case as Ada Louise Huxtable noted, “Richard Meier’s usual all-white façades were rejected by museum authorities with conservative taste, which were reacting to strong community concerns about the suitability of white for the exposed hilltop and the intense California light. The pristine, high-modernist buildings of beige travertine and off-white porcelain enamel have been called conventional and predictable by those who would have preferred to see the foundation’s considerable resources devoted to a more daring or experimental approach.”[xii] If a criticism were to be made of the use of white in the Frankfurt museum, the visual effect of Meier’s exterior has been altered as a result of aging and dirt. Considering the geographical location of Frankfurt, there is not a large enough overhang to protect the vertical surfaces of the museum building. While the surfaces of the museum have acquired a different appearance over time, the massing and treatment of Meier’s addition and its relationship to the Villa remain in the way that had been intended by the architect.


As Huxtable so poignantly wrote on this topic, “The art museum goes beyond the preoccupation with material things. It is dedicated not only to collecting and preserving, but also to the search for meaning that has always been among civilization’s highest achievements. This has produced a unique building type today, based on an unprecedented kind of collaboration between artists and architects. At its most successful, it is a new art form.”[xiii]Together, the presence of history and the addition of the new building create in a synthesis of the old and new to produce a culture and artistic achievement in its own right. Much of Meier’s success in this example can be attributed, in part, as Frampton points out, in the larger agenda of postmodernism, articulated in Rossi’s book, which entailed both an acceptance of historical precedent and context, and also an attempt to enhance meaning and experience.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[i] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur in Frankfurt 1980-1990. (Munich : Prestel, c1990) 13.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 15-16.

[iv] Ibid, 15.

[v] Ibid, 16.

[vi] Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Museums: Making It New,” 9.

[vii] Frampton, Kenneth in Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 20.

[viii] Meier, Richard and Lisa J. Green. Richard Meier. (Cambridge: St. Martin’s Press, 1990) 44.

[ix] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 16.

[x] Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, Sandy Nairne. Thinking about Exhibitions. (New York: Routledge, 1996) 347.

[xi] Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Museums: Making It New,” New York Review of Books, V.46, no.7, April 22, 1999, p. 9.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid, 11.


Paul Rudolph’s Campus Architecture of the 1960’s

by Kristina Nugent


When Paul Rudolph left Twitchell’s Florida partnership to start his own practice in 1951, the period that followed marked Rudolph’s swift departure from the International Style in favor of developing a rough, dynamic, and challenging aesthetic – of his own invention – that has come to define his oeuvre.[1] As Rudolph is remembered today for his signature stylistic impact on concrete modernism, his contributions to urbanism and master planning are equally deserving of recognition.[2] One commission in particular, his design and master plan for a new university campus in Southeastern Massachusetts, signifies a pioneering contribution in the area of campus planning and architectural history.[3]


By the late 1950s, Rudolph’s preferred construction medium was undeniably concrete.[4] Rudolph preferred “buildings that respond to light and shade, to buildings that are all reflection.”[5] To achieve this solidity and expressiveness, he used several methods to enliven the surface of his buildings: from ribbed concrete block, to arranging cantilevered elements at contrasting angles, and inserting window openings that would directly achieve desired interior light effects, rather than basing openings on a prescribed, formal arrangement. One of his most often-employed techniques was to striate the surface of the concrete block to effectively, “break down the scale of walls and catch the light in many different ways because of its heavy texture.”[6] These, as well as other practices developed by Rudolph, were intended to add visual interest to the concrete composition, as well as avoid the tendency that large buildings had of becoming “overpoweringly dull and lifeless.”[7]


(Photo above: Seth Tisue, Creative Commons Licensed)

As Rudolph continued to develop new design mythologies and rendering techniques, it was his commission in 1962 to design the Government Services Center in Boston for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the Boston architectural firm of Desmond & Lord that further established Rudolph as not only an innovative and sought-after architect, but as a skillful master planner as well.[8] The partners of Desmond & Lord approached Rudolph to lead the project design for a campus master plan for an entirely new college campus in Southeastern Massachusetts, and Rudolph readily accepted.[9] This commission presented a substantial departure from the problems that Rudolph had encountered working on the Government Services Center as he was able to “execute one of the most comprehensive explorations of his signature architectural style on an unprecedented scale.”[10]


The initial commission awarded to Desmond & Lord in 1962 entailed the design of a master plan, as well as a site and buildings group plan for the new Massachusetts University campus.[11] An article that appeared in Architectural Record in 1966 noted, “Only since the latter part of the 1960s have colleges and universities begun again to build powerful over-all campus forms. The article referenced Rudolph’s master plan for SMTI as, “ Something that is very rare among today’s colleges and university buildings – a single architectural concept strong enough to control the design of a whole campus.”[12] Since the SMTI campus began at the start of the national university building boom, Rudolph’s master plan had a far-reaching architectural and campus planning impact on the decades that followed.

Rudolph was able to effectively establish the groundwork for the campus by laying out the Campus Master Plan of 1964 and the design of the first “Group I” Arts and Humanities building. However, criticism over the “high construction costs” continued to mount as Rudolph began his design for the “Group 2” Science and Engineering building. Throughout the design process, Rudolph had been instructed to take cost into account, but not at the expense of what he determined to be the essential aspects of the design itself. Calculations revealed that the Rudolph’s final costs were not considerably higher per square foot than the lowest bids, despite the presence of built-in furniture, a “substantial amount of site work and the special corrugated concrete block, which turned out to be almost identical in cost to ordinary block in the quantities used.”[13]  The Group I building was critiqued primarily for it’s expensive appearance: the elaborate interior spaces, the large expanses of glass, and their monumental design. “The new campus was a controversial project with a modernist designer who came up with a scheme that was hardly traditional. The design and completion of Group 1 was shocking to most people. No one in this area had ever seen anything like it. It was easy to criticize as a result.”[14]


The Commonwealth government and University officials were further dissatisfied when Rudolph’s Group 2 came at a higher cost than even the Group I building, which they had already deemed to be over budget. Under orders from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Desmond and Lord were instructed to remove Rudolph from the project in June of 1966.[15] Following Rudolph’s departure, Desmond & Lord became the architects of record on most of the other campus buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, and adhered to the master plan that Rudolph had prescribed. Barnes noted, “The team that worked on the project at Desmond & Lord was very loyal to him and still is to this day.”[16] The firm managed to lower the cost of construction (by estimating the building without the higher cost of air conditioning), which allowed the integrity of Rudolph’s original vision to be preserved.[17] Later building additions that were consistent with his original plan were faithfully carried out by successive architectural firms, in some cases with Rudolph acting as the consulting architect when he returned a decade later to design several buildings including the Student Center, the Textile building, and the Dion Science and Engineering building.

While Rudolph was not ultimately responsible for designing every building in the central core of the Dartmouth campus, judging from the architectural unity of the composition once the Dion building was completed in 1988, Rudolph’s master plan was diligently adhered to in later designs. As critics has proclaimed in 1966 that Rudolph’s plan was designed around a “single architectural concept, strong enough to control the design of a whole campus,” what resulted, at least comparing the original site plan with what was actually built, was remarkably close to the original intention.[18] Although three of the buildings were entirely or partially designed by Rudolph, they were not necessarily more significant than the others since without the strength of the ensemble, Rudolph’s greater vision – the master plan itself – would be lost. Beyond the nine of the “original” main campus buildings built between 1964 and 1988, the campus open space, as well as the original site plan and design of the campus landscape is as significant as the individual buildings.


The ‘appreciation’ of this Paul Rudolph campus has shifted in a dramatic way in the last ten years, mainly due to an increased awareness of the significance of the architecture in a historic sense. While some still regard the campus aesthetic as, hard, cold and uninviting, there is a realization of its importance.[19] Rudolph’s master plan and the resulting UMass Dartmouth campus demonstrated Rudolph’s skill as both a practical architect and a visionary. Although the Commonwealth had been unsupportive of a campus plan in the years following Rudolph’s master plan, rendering its concrete forms extravagant for the overextended and ad-hoc postwar decades, the campus stood as a testament to the endurance of Rudolph’s architectural vision.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[1] Davern, Jeanne M. “A Conversation with Paul Rudolph.” Architectural Record, Vol. 170 (March 1982), p. 90-97. Rudolph’s earliest design influences include Gropius and other Graduate School of Design instructors he encountered during his time at Harvard as a master’s student.

[2] Rudolph’s first major commissions included developing master plans for several academic and government-sponsored projects, such as the design for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield building in Boston (1954-7), the Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College (1955-58), the Tuskegee Institute (1958), Sarasota High School (1958-60), and especially the Art and Architecture Building at Yale University (1958-64).

[3] Rudolph was designing the UMass campus while serving as the Dean of the Architecture School at Yale, in Biemiller, Lawrence, “At Yale, an Unlikely Champion for ‘the Building That Won’t Go Away,’” The Chronicle of Higher Education (6 June 2008), online: Also of note is the change in the perception of Modern architecture on the Yale campus: “While other institutions struggle with decisions about buildings from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Mr. Stern says members of the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing board, think of its Modernist structures as valuable artifacts in the university’s collection.”They talk about these buildings,” he says, “as if they were Rembrandts or Mondrians.”

[4] Mehrtens, Cristina. “Brutal identity: Paul Rudolph, the city and the renewal of the modern,” University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Paul Rudolph Symposium, UMass Dartmouth April 13, 2005. Like Peter and Allison Smithson, Rudolph’s body of work did not represent a strict chronological progression, nor did he attempt to replicate Florida Modernism in the Northeast, even as other major architects of the time, Edward Durell Stone and Phillip Johnson, were designing glass houses in non-temperate climates.

[5] Rudolph was remarking on his design of the Boston Blue Cross Blue Shield Building of 1957, and how it influenced his design for the Yale A+A, from Rohan, Timothy. “Rendering the Surface: Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building at Yale”.  Grey Room 1, 2000, p. 85.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, the author also noted that the buildings at the SMTI campus were not built using the same bush hammered concrete Rudolph had selected for the A&A building at Yale, but rather concrete block that he had first used in the construction of the Crawford Manor (housing for the elderly) in New Haven, Connecticut.

[8] Barnes, Bruce. Interview with William Grindereng: Longtime Architectural Associate of Architect Paul Rudolph. Recorded in Boston Massachusetts, June 28, 2006.

[9] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,” Barnes also organized the April, 2005 symposium for the Chancellor’s “Breaking New Ground” Initiative.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The design for the new “Southeastern Massachusetts Technical Institute” campus (SMTI), was controversial well before it was designed. The Commonwealth had little interest in funding such an ambitious project for this economically depressed region, from Barnes, Bruce. Interview with William Grindereng: Longtime Architectural Associate of Architect Paul Rudolph. Recorded in Boston Massachusetts, June 28, 2006.

[12] “Architecture that Gives a Campus the Unity of a Single building.” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140, n. 4, p. [145]-160

[13] That was the price per square foot in 1966. Today this would have amounted to around $45 per sq. foot, from: “Will Rudolph’s Vision of the SMTI Campus be Fully Realized?” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140,  n. 4, p. 156.

[14] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,” Barnes also organized the April, 2005 symposium for the Chancellor’s “Breaking New Ground” Initiative.

[17] As one critic remarked, “In the design of Group I, Paul Rudolph had cast the dye for the execution of his vision by subsequent designers who were faithful to his unique vision for the SMTI / SMU campus,” in, “Will Rudolph’s Vision of the SMTI Campus be Fully Realized?” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140,  n. 4, p. 156.

[18] “Architecture that Gives a Campus the Unity of a Single building.” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v.

140, n. 4, p. 146.

[19] Conversation with Peter Gagnon, the Associate Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction of UMass Dartmouth during a campus visit on both Feb. 13, 2009 and an email follow-up March 19, 2009.