Stylepark Zumtobel
Indoor streets and light bridges

What kind of rooms do you need in order to show artworks that are usually at home on the streets? We spoke to Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz and Thomas Willemeit  of Graft Architects about their design for the “Urban Nation” Street Art Museum in Berlin.
The Urban Nation Museum for Contemporary Art is Berlin's new hub for street art.

Adeline Seidel: A museum for Street Art sounds a little paradoxical. What brought about this project?

Graft Architects: We’ll have to go into a bit of detail to outline the background to “Urban Nation”. One of the initiators is Gewobag, a Berlin housing association that has also launched numerous neighborhood and youth projects – from a boxing club to painting classes to Street Art and graffiti courses. Curator Yasha Young, who has a great network in the scene, provided professional support. These parties developed the idea of creating a permanent space that can function as a “hub” – a meeting point where people can think about contemporary Urban Art and where current trends are exhibited and discussed.

But Street Art minus the street? How is that supposed to work?

Graft Architects: The question of the street is a good starting point. Because of course places like this need a “street cred” of sorts. This is ensured on the one hand by the excellent contacts to the artists, who are by now already receiving commissions from cities worldwide – think of JR, for example. And on the other by the intensive integration of all that is happening in this “hub” into the neighborhood and community. The museum is not the kind of place that opens late once a month and everyone stands around drinking champers in high heels chatting about art. There are things going on there every day. It is a place for experimentation. And “street” really is an important term also because we have actually tried to bring the street inside.

The outer wall of the museum also serves as an exhibition space.

So what swayed your choice for an old building typical of Berlin – apart from the fact that their exteriors are often tagged...

Graft Architects: We think it was a great choice simply taking a conventional residential building in the Schöneberg district and converting it, rather than finding a pretty infill and wedging a small jewelry box for art in there. As architects, we were faced with the exciting question of how to create a moment of surprise. And how would we manage to bring the exterior, the urban space, the street, into this apartment building? This question turned into the starting point for a concept.

So how did you do it?

Graft Architects: We removed the ceilings between the ground floor and the first floor in order to create very high spaces. Seven meters are an acceptable height for street artists, who are used to creating large formats. But we wanted to make it possible to experience this art in a different way – a way that wouldn’t be possible outside, or maybe only very rarely. So we decided to add bridges at the height of the first floor, enabling viewers to step up close to the works and see them from a different perspective. “What are the marks like?” or “Where did the artist first stick something down and then paint over it?” The bridges allow you to get a thorough look at the pieces and find answers to these kinds of questions. In the end, this concept gave rise to a walkway leading once around the entire building. From this, you get a different perspective of the spaces.

Zumtobel's Supersystem II makes it easy to illuminate the different situations.

Street Art is usually exposed to light that changes as the day progresses. How did you treat the issue of lighting in the museum?

Graft Architects: We wanted to create ideal lighting conditions – if you’re going to look at Street Art inside, it should be illuminated as neutrally as possible. Because only then do you actually get to see every little detail. When we planned the lighting with Zumtobel, our idea with the bridges turned out to be extremely useful in this respect, too: We were able to use the undersides of the bridges to integrate lighting fixtures. The advantage here was that we were then able to keep the walls entirely free from fixtures – a definite plus when showing this kind of art. The shadows created in this way also underpin the architecture and the pathways. It is really important in architecture, regardless of what kind of spatial situation you’re looking at, to have a great lighting concept.

What made you decide to use Zumtobel’s “Supersystem II”?

Graft Architects: The “Supersystem II” was the easiest to integrate into the space – it is a rail system that practically turns into part of the architecture. It also met the curator’s requirements, namely flexibility as regards the positioning of lights and the possibility to change the intensity and color of the light.

Zumtobel's lighting solution supports the curator's concept: Changing exhibits require flexible lighting.
The "Ondaria tunableWhite pendant light" is used in the project rooms and ensures pleasant illumination of the workplaces.
Founded Graft Architects 1998: Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz and Thomas Willemeit.