Dezeen Magazine

Exterior of the Museum of Military History

Daniel Libeskind's Museum of Military History "is a symbol of the resurrection"

Continuing our series on deconstructivism we look at Daniel Libeskind's extension to the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany, which features a pointed steel and glass shard that thrusts through the original building's neoclassical facade.

The extension was completed in 2011 and is one of Libeskind's best known projects, along with earlier works such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and his extension to Denver Art Museum in the United States.

Exterior of the Museum of Military History
Daniel Libeskind designed the Museum of Military History extension

The striking addition takes the form of a glass, steel and concrete wedge that collides with the facade of the former armoury constructed in the 1870s.

The building features the jutting forms, slanted surfaces and fragmentation that recur in many of the architect's projects and have led to Libeskind being considered a prominent exponent of the deconstructivist style.

Extension to the Museum of Military History
The striking addition takes the form of a glass, steel and concrete wedge

In 2001, Studio Libeskind won an international competition aimed at redefining the role of the building, which had previously served as the Saxon armoury and museum before operating as a Nazi museum, a Soviet museum and an East German museum.

The Polish-born Jewish architect – himself a child of Holocaust survivors – was already known for projects that deal with issues relating to war and genocide, including the Imperial War Museum North in Salford, England, and a museum dedicated to the painter and Holocaust victim, Felix Nussbaum, in Osnabrück, Germany.

Daniel Libeskind-designed museum extension
It collides with the facade of the museum

Libeskind wanted his intervention to speak of the destruction and pain caused by war, which is particularly noticeable in a city that was devastated by air raids during the second world war.

"The dramatic extension is a symbol of the resurrection of Dresden from its ashes," said the architect. "It is about the juxtaposition of tradition and innovation, of the new and the old."

"Dresden is a city that has been fundamentally altered," he added, "the events of the past are not just a footnote; they are central to the transformation of the city today."

Exterior of the Museum of Military History
The museum is housed in an armoury constructed in the 1870s

Libeskind's design flaunted the competition's guidelines, which stated that the new addition must not interfere with the historic facade. He believed a more drastic intervention was necessary to emphasise the shift in the museum's identity.

A five-storey triangular volume intersects with the existing structure, creating a strong contrast between the solidity and formal rigidity of the neoclassical building and the extension's far more open expression.

The architect explained that the existing building "represents the severity of the authoritarian past", while the new facade "reflects the transparency of the military in a democratic society".

The tip of the arrow-like extension points towards the direction from which the first fire bombs were dropped on Dresden during an air raid on the night of 13 February 1945.

Angular museum extension by Daniel Libeskind
Libeskind wanted his design to speak of the destruction caused by war

A viewing platform is located near the point of the wedge at a height of 29 metres. It provides a unique vantage point to look out over the modern city, while creating a space for reflection about past events.

The extension appears to break through the armoury's facade and intersects with its central wing, where it interrupts an existing chronological exhibition recounting the history of the German Army.

Glass and steel facade
The extension features a palette of industrial materials

Areas on either side of the addition are dedicated to events before and after the two world wars, with the annex creating a clear distinction between these different eras in the country's military past.

The extension increased the building's overall exhibition area to 13,000 square metres, making it Germany's largest museum, with space for a total of 10,000 exhibits.

Glass and steel facade
It increased the building's overall exhibition area to 13,000 square metres

The new spaces accommodate a thematic exhibition that displays specific aspects and phenomena of military history that have significantly impacted society through the ages.

Inside the annex, angled walls enclose circulation spaces and exhibition areas that contain objects mounted in unconventional ways, including onto sloping surfaces so they are suspended above or in front of the viewer.

Viewing platform at the Museum of Military History
A viewing platform is located near the point of the wedge

The extension features a palette of industrial materials including exposed concrete and metal, which contrasts with the more traditional stone and plaster used in the original building.

Above all, the building's design aims to reinforce the contrast between old and new, reflecting the museum's desire to transform into a place for dialogue about the causes and consequences of war and violence.

Exterior of the Museum of Military History
The building's design aims to reinforce the contrast between old and new

Libeskind's project divided critics at the time, with The Observer's Rowan Moore describing it as "at once breathtaking, verging on the wonderful, and breathtakingly dumb", while Hugh Pearman of the Architectural Record said: "This is architecture that is appropriate for its function, combining geometric rigour with clear commentary."

Libeskind is considered an important figure in the deconstructivist movement. His buildings regularly challenge architectural conventions, juxtaposing elements in surprising ways and incorporating forms that oppose rationality and symmetry.

In a recent interview with Dezeen, the architect claimed he always felt "slightly repulsed" by the use of the term deconstructivism to describe his work, insisting that his focus is always on creating architecture that provokes an emotional response and tells a story.

Libeskind was invited by architect and critic Philip Johnson to participate in the seminal 1988 Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), despite not yet having completed a single building.

Museum circulation by Daniel Libeskind
Angled walls enclose circulation spaces

Shortly after presenting a concept called City Edge at the exhibition, he won a competition to design the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which became one of his most celebrated projects.

Libeskind went on to complete numerous major cultural projects including the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Canada, as well as being chosen to oversee the masterplan for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site in New York City.

The photography is by Hufton+Crow

Deconstructivism series logo
Illustration by Jack Bedford

Deconstructivism is one of the 20th century's most influential architecture movements. Our series profiles the buildings and work of its leading proponents –  Eisenman, Koolhaas, Gehry, Hadid, Libeskind, Tschumi and Prix.

Read our deconstructivism series ›