• The brightly colored façade of the Brandhorst Museum in Munich is made up of squareprofile ceramic sticks mounted in front of a folded metal cladding. Before pursuing this design, the architects also considered metal fabric, perforated glass, and a perforated ceramic scrim, all of which were rejected for cost or aesthestic reasons.

    Credit: Annette Kisling

    The brightly colored façade of the Brandhorst Museum in Munich is made up of squareprofile ceramic sticks mounted in front of a folded metal cladding. Before pursuing this design, the architects also considered metal fabric, perforated glass, and a perforated ceramic scrim, all of which were rejected for cost or aesthestic reasons.

Architect: Sauerbruch Hutton, Berlin
Location: Munich

The collection at the new Brandhorst Museum in Munich’s arts district may contain works by the likes of Pop Art icon Andy Warhol, but the 130,000-square-foot museum’s vibrant façade is all Sauerbruch Hutton. The Berlin-based architecture firm—known for its use of color in its projects—was one of 25 firms in an invited design competition that began in 2002. It won the contract with a proposal about using bright colors on a two-layer façade. “We had the idea that we would have a certain depth, and a contrast between an outer layer and an inner layer that looked very different close up and from far away,” says project architect David Wegener.

After many iterations, the result is a screen of 36,147 individual 1½-inch-square and 44-inch-long ceramic sticks, vertically mounted about 1½ inches in front of a horizontally oriented folded metal siding system. This provides the depth that the design team was after, and the 2½-inch gap between the vertical rows of rods allows the metal siding to show through, creating a visual effect that makes the façade look different from every angle. G&H Isover—the project’s façade consultant—contracted with NBK Ceramic to produce the sticks and glaze them in the factory. The rods are similar to the horizontal rods, manufactured by Shildan, used on the Renzo Piano–designed New York Times building.* In fact, the sticks used on the Brandhorst Museum are “the same material, but their profiles are round and ours are square,” Wegener says. And then there’s the color.

The colors are split into three families, each with eight shades, that are arranged to help define the mass of the building. “We like the material because even though it is produced in an industrial scale, it has a handmade touch,” Wegener says. Not to be left out, the folded metal siding also features two alternating colors behind each color family of glazed ceramic.

Each stick has two bolts embedded in the material that connect to bolts threaded through the folded metal cladding through predrilled holes. The two bolts are connected by a hand-applied nut, and the spacing is so exact that the effect is a continuous screen.

The visual effect is impressive, but the reasons behind the double façade are more than just aesthetic. Neighbors on this residential street were concerned about increased noise levels, so the  façade is engineered to absorb sound. The metal cladding is perforated and backed—after an airspace that is 2 1/3 inches  at the building’s base—by a 4¾-inch-thick batt of insulation. In lieu of a foil coating, the insulation is treated with a hydrophobic coating that leaves the material bare but weatherproof—improving sound absorption. “We couldn’t prove it in simulation beforehand,” Wegener says, “but it does work.” A good thing, too, because since its opening in May, the Brandhorst Museum building has been as much of an attraction as the art within.

*Correction, Oct. 21, 2009: This article originally stated that NBK manufactured the ceramic rods used in the New York Times building. In fact, the rods on Renzo Piano's building were made by Shildan.