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Towards Seaming the Crack: The Kolumba Museum, Cologne

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Aitor Albo
University of East London London UK
Starting from personal questioning about the repercussion of architectural intervention in the realm of the existent, ‘Towards Seaming the Crack’ focuses on the analysis of the approach Peter Zumthor has taken in the design and execution of the new Kolumba Diocesan Museum in Cologne; to explore issues of preservation, memory, architectural evolution and building development.

Architectural intervention is understood as an evolutionary process, both destructive and constructive, of activation or reactivation by means of building. The architect, in order to respond to an existing demand, creates or transforms discontinuity. Nevertheless, he/she must resolve, by means of building, the discontinuity generated by the intervention itself. In addition, their success will entirely depend on the way the new is absorbed by the existing, the ability to transform crack into seam in an attempt to generate a meaningful whole.

In this sense, the Kolumba’s site and brief amalgamated a series of particularities which Peter Zumthor has used to his advantage to develop a building that embraces the given-present (the original situation and its determinants) to generate a new-present (the post-interventional situation). Ultimately, this leads to the analysis of the approach Zumthor took, through the exploration of materiality, form, time and senses to create a building that seems capable of seaming the crack, which its own coming into being generated.

Zumthor’s intervention on the site of St Kolumba not only retrieves for the site its relevance within the urban realm of the historic centre of Cologne, but opens up a whole new set of relations between the new and the existing. An almost symbiotic relationship is established between the remains of the wall of the church and the newly built; the old providing support for the new and the new providing cover to the former.

Thus, the Kolumba Museum becomes a key element in understanding the evolution of Cologne and provides the visitors with the elements that allow them to read between the lines of the city.

Aitor Albo

Like, perhaps, any worthwhile study of a specific building, this dissertation is seen as a way in which to examine fundamental architectural issues, and to make clear the specifics of the method of a particular architect in approaching a project. And that architects go beyond a brief into a far richer field of activity does not mean that the particular qualities of a site are overwhelmed by his or her programme. Seeing an architectural project, as is done here, as intervention is both a subtle and suitable point of departure, and developing this further into the idea of the crack and the seam is very fitting. This is particularly acute in relation to the reconstruction of the destroyed city, an important narrative in relation to Cologne, as well as developing a phenomenological reading based on Heidegger’s essay, is an underpinning of this basic theme.

The fundamental question of materiality is centrally important in this enquiry, and the greatest strength of the piece is the careful analysis of the building as experienced and as designed. While clearly based on visiting the building, it goes much further in the level of its observations, and I suspect this is a more acute insight than most or all published articles. It includes, perhaps rarely with writing on a Zumthor building, some criticism of aims unfulfilled.This excellent piece of work, which not only closely and critically examines a building, but also has something of importance to say.

Mr Andrew Higgott
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