The Kolumba museum in Köln, Germany is one of Zumthor’s most recent finished projects. It is buit over the ruins of a monastory complex.
This project deals with ruins in a way that many would not dare to, he builds on top of and animates the ruins, to ensure their neccesity. Not only are they partly what the building is about but they physically hold it up. This differs from the normative view of conservaton, the museumification of the past. He is confident as such that his work is an addition to the layers of the city, something which will last. Light is brought intoa quadruple storey 'void' beneath the gallery by means of shiftings in the brick course, and can be read from the exterior as three courses of strip windows which envelope part of the building. Zumthor has created his own brick for this project, these extremely long bricks with large mortar joints to allow for the variances found in such long bricks.
The 'room of ruins' is dark and cavernous, the only light coming from the spaces in the brick, at clerestory level. The building proper can be seen to be supported from the inside by means of a regular grid of impossibly slender columns, which sit within the ruins and further the anti-isolation approach. He has full height windows which appear (from the inside) to dissappear at the floorplate, connecting with building inextricably with the city. It is a view out, grounding the experience of the contents of the gallery in reality. These appear as framed pieces of work, hanging on the outside of the building.
He defines the stairs with shaddow gaps and plays tricks with dark and light. Having dark stairs with light at the top, drawing you upwards. He expresses the movement from a room to a corridoor with a miniscule drop in level. From the corridor the structural opening not touching the ground, and with the shadow gap, the two elements feeling seperate, expressing the difference of programme and as if one should experience different things in each.
This approach pervades to the most banal of things. the fire exit stair is not a standard 'purchased' item, which is attached to the building, but a beautifully crafted piece of metalwork. With Zumthor the building does not let you consume it, you do not use it, exhaust it, instead you experience it, reside within it and allow it to consume you.