Museum Folkwang: Essen, Germany

A German art museum showcases its treasures under ceilings that combine fabric and light diffusion.

 enlightenment magazine: Lighting design firm Arup utilizing SEFAR

Founded in 1902, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany has a rich history. It was the first museum of contemporary art in Europe and acquired Germany’s first public collection of works by the forerunners of Modernism: Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Matisse. Today, the museum houses some of Germany’s most renowned and prominent art collections, many of which are displayed under a unique product.

As part of an expansion project that took three years to complete, the Museum Folkwang added 40,903 square feet that complement the original footprint. The museum is now comprised of six structures, four atriums, plus gardens and galleries. The varied sequence of spaces provides natural light for the exhibition areas that are supplemented by side windows and light ceilings.

The project team included architect David Chipperfield Architects, with offices in Berlin and London; lighting design firm Arup of London; planning and construction manager Plan Forward of Stuttgart, Germany; and engineer and installer Schmid GmbH of Simmerberg, Germany.

To satisfy the demand of exhibiting works of art in both natural and artificial light, the lighting design team at Arup selected SEFAR® Architecture’s LightFrame system.

“We were looking for a product with very specific properties – one that could both partially diffuse light and partially maintain its directionality,” says Andrew Sedgwick, project director for Arup. “SEFAR’s LightFrame achieved this purpose excellently, and we were very pleased with the results.”

This particular fabric framing system not only provides light diffusion, but also the added bonus of acoustic improvements. Basically, it consists of dual wrinkle-free, high light-diffusing architectural fabrics that are biaxially stretched over a light, modular frame system. The secondary skin allows it to diffuse light, improve acoustics, and eliminate the penetration of debris.

To accomplish this herculean task, a custom frame was developed by SEFAR Architecture. The system is built with individual, hinged rigid frames that permit direct access to building equipment and appliances in the ceiling cavity.

The design of the ceiling modules allows them to be installed using a small derrick crane, saving museum operators a substantial amount on the cost of steel construction since walk-in access to building equipment and appliances were no longer needed. The system was then outfitted with runners for a mobile wall partition system to allow for suspended, separating wall elements in the space when needed.

The individual modules are stretched with SEFAR Architecture’s IA-95-CL PVDF interior acoustic fabric on the visible side that allows a high light transmission of 95 percent and transparent ET film on the reverse. The dual skin system is airtight and eliminates penetration of dust and insects on the fabric membrane, which can inhibit the transference of light over time.

“In our project, the LightFrame product successfully filters incoming daylight while maintaining a natural variation through the day as the sun moves through the sky so visitors can see the subtle difference from morning to afternoon. It ultimately gives a naturalistic feel to the rigorous, but calm gallery interiors,” Sedgwick explains.

The ceiling system also provided several other benefits to the museum, including diffused and uniform light transmission, improved acoustics, and long-lasting resistance to UV light. The low-maintenance material resists UV rays, moisture, and dirt and meets all fire code requirements. In the event of a fire, LightFrame produces very little smoke and instead of dripping, it dissipates.

Today, the Museum Folkwang boasts 18,094 square feet of the LightFrame system, made up of 13,186 square feet in a pillar-free hall for temporary exhibitions and 4,908 square feet in a permanent exhibition space. The temporary exhibit space utilizes 247 10.5 x 5 foot LightFrame modules, while the permanent exhibit space includes 267 6 x 3 foot LightFrame modules.

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