Upon entering the main building at the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, visitors are surrounded by a style of architecture that appeals to all the senses through the interplay between the art on display and the architectural design of the space itself. Conceived in the early 19th century by Heinrich Hübsch as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” combining architecture, painting and sculpture, the gallery consists of a series of rooms whose design seeks to resonate with the aesthetic sensibility of the visitor through the variation of room size and wall coloration. The Kunsthalle Karlsruhe was one of the first museum buildings in Germany and is one of the very few to have largely retained its original design.
Before embarking on a career as an architect, Heinrich Hübsch studied philosophy and mathematics and received his architectural training under the Karlsruhe master builder, Friedrich Weinbrenner. Hübsch envisaged a place ‘where the eye, feeling and contemplation would go hand in hand’. Furthermore, this site of the arts was no longer to be the preserve of a few, but made accessible to the public. In 1830 Grand Duke Leopold of Baden decided to commission the erection of a picture gallery, in ‘the interest of the public edification’ to be built alongside the existing academy building constructed in the century before.
The architect envisaged creating a four-winged complex, but by 1846 only the first section had been completed, running along what is now Hans-Thoma-Strasse. The architect capitalized on the effects created by using different materials in the outer and inner appearance of the building. In style, Hübsch drew inspiration from his long stays in Italy. In the design of the façade, he made use of the ‘Venetian’ or Palladian window, an arched window that is joined by rectangular lights on either side.
Plans were floated for the expansion of the Kunsthalle around forty years later. In 1891 Josef Durm, director of building and construction for the Grand Duchy of Baden, unveiled plans based on Hübsch’s original designs which also envisaged a four-winged complex. These plans included a glass roof construction that would span the inner courtyard. Like his predecessor, Durm only managed to complete one wing of the complex he had planned. Durm retained Hübsch’s style on the eastern façade, only deviating from it in favour of a more elaborate, neo-Baroque language of forms on the shorter northern façade facing the palace.
Around 1904 gallery staff anticipated the erection of a separate pavilion in honour of the then director of the Kunsthalle, Hans Thoma. The plans however were changed. In 1908, the chief state architect at the time, Heinrich Amersbach, presented to Grand Duke Frederick II the designs for a three-storey northern wing, and work began in earnest shortly afterwards. The ground floor dedicated to Thoma and an octagonal dome in the courtyard were officially opened on 2 October 1909, coinciding with Thoma’s 70th birthday.
The Kunsthalle Karlsruhe was not spared the devastation of the Second World War. We are fortunate that all works in the collection had already been removed by 1942, after which the building was used as offices for a local authority. During the heavy aerial bombardment of 27 September 1944, parts of the Kunsthalle’s main building and the entire Orangerie went up in flames. By 1948, however, the first exhibition of the post-war years was able to go on show on the ground floor of the rear wing. The official reopening of the museum as a whole took place in 1951.
In the 1970s an architectural competition was held for the development of a new block. The most convincing proposal was put forward by the Karlsruhe-based architect, Heinz Mohl, whose plans revived Heinrich Hübsch’s original idea of the four-winged structure, but added to them a contemporary language of forms of his own. As the three-storied Amersbach wing now no longer suited the planned layout of the collection over two floors, this section of the building was torn down in 1981/82, with the exception of the northern façade. Construction work began shortly afterwards and today’s new block comprises four floors starting with an expanded basement level, then the Kupferstichkabinett, with its own exhibition area directly attached, an additional exhibition floor and rooms for workshops and offices for staff. The official opening ceremony was held on 13 February 1990. As a result of the expansion, the Kunsthalle now commands an area in excess of 7474 square metres.
During construction work on what was then the ‘Grand-ducal Kunsthalle’, Heinrich Hübsch was asked in 1843 to devise plans for a new orangery building. The site was already partly occupied by buildings that dated from the first half of the 18th century. In addition to this, in 1806 Hübsch’s own teacher, Friedrich Weinbrenner, had commenced planning a complex comprising an orangery and glass conservatories, which would add the finishing touches to the palace gardens to the south and west.
On a journey to the United Kingdom in 1846, Heinrich Hübsch became acquainted with the then ground-breaking features of botanical conservatory buildings, and as a result, the Orangerie, which took four years to construct and was completed in 1857, was given an arch-shaped vaulted roof made of glass, which was sadly destroyed in the Second World War. In designing the exterior of the orangery, Hübsch planned even greater colour variation in the materials chosen than in the Kunsthalle’s building beforehand.
As the cultivation of orange trees was abandoned shortly after the building’s completion, it was quickly put to different uses. The building became the venue of popular art and industrial exhibitions, held in the summer months. And from 1930 the Orangerie was home for five years to the Kunsthalle’s collection of plaster casts.
In the Second World War the building burnt to the ground; reconstruction took several years so that the building was only able to reopen in 1952. Depending on programming, the Orangerie is now home either to a display of the Kunsthalle’s permanent contemporary collection or a temporary exhibition.
The third building designed by Heinrich Hübsch and situated on Hans-Thoma-Strasse has served as a welcome new addition to the exhibition space at the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe since spring 2009. The building in question is a former house between the Orangerie and the main building. The Junge Kunsthalle is now home to rotating exhibitions, specially tailored to our younger visitors. Previously, such exhibitions, held periodically since the founding of the ‘Kindermuseum’ in 1973, had been accommodated in various available rooms in the Kunsthalle.
The building, also designed by Hübsch, was completed in 1843 – years before the planning of the orangery and the official opening of the Kunsthalle’s main building – and initially served as the private living quarters for the director of the palace gardens. The main body of the building is a simple cube with a gently sloping hip roof, whose design is influenced by the palace architecture of northern Italy. It is one of the few examples in which Hübsch made extensive use of plaster, as the master-builder was limited in his choices and could only have few structural elements set in ashlar, such as the plinth and window and door frames.
As in his other constructions, Hübsch placed particular importance on the relief of the walls and designed plaster sections distinctly coloured from one another for the upper floor. The building is one of the few residential dwellings designed by the architect that is still preserved today. In the renovations of 2009/2010, the rooms on the upper floor were adapted to suit the needs of the children’s museum and the technical fittings were modernized. The slate roof was refurbished, as were the windows on the upper floor.