Baden-Württemberg Journal: Design Driven Architecture in Old World Germany

Stuttgart’s Kunstmuseum is a glass cube art museum on a historic, downtown square. (photo courtesy Kunstmuseum)

Baden-Württemberg Journal: Design Driven Architecture in Old World Germany


The area of southwest Germany, bordering France and Switzerland, is one of the oldest regions of the country, dating to the 12th century. Known today as the state of Baden-Würtemmberg, it has dozens of castles, medieval towns and tiny, black forest villages that haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. But the region is also known for its modern architecture and high tech companies, especially in the area of solar energy.

Entrance to Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch, a contemporary art museum next to Ritter Sport chocolate factory. The square-shaped museum building and the original Ritter chocolate bar have something in common. (photo Ron Bernthal

In the medieval town of Waldenbuch, a suburb of Stuttgart with 8,000 residents located just 15 miles south of the city, a new museum opened in 2005 dedicated to the collection of Marli Hoppe-Ritter, a descendent of the Ritter family that began a small chocolate company in the 1920’s, now known as Ritter Sport, one of Germany’s largest confectionary companies.

The chocolate factory is located next to Museum Ritter, a stunning stone and glass cube structure designed by Swiss architect Max Dudler, houses Mrs. Ritter’s art collection. The unique, cubed design of the museum, which houses Mrs. Ritter’s art collection, mimics the iconic squared chocolate bar that Clara Ritter invented in 1932, which the company became famous for. Even today it is the only square-shaped chocolate produced in Germany, and the architecturally savvy museum next door, with its collection of colorful, geometric paintings, and stunning views of the countryside, has become one of southwest Germany’s most visited attraction.

Geometric artwork by Gloeckner at Museum Ritter (photo courtesy Museum Ritter)

Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (photo Ron Bernthal)

Ballingen is another small, historic town near Stuttgart that was first mentioned in the 9th century, but their town hall, known as the Stadthalle, was given a modern face lift a few years ago by 4a, a creative German architectural firm that designed a new addition to the Balingen Stadthalle. In Germany a Stadthalle is not used for municipal offices, like in the U.S., but as a town civic center where concerts and other events are held. The new glass and wood addition, along with the permanent displays of artwork, including original Picasso and Miro works and other paintings, as well as modern lawn sculpture, has become one of the town’s most popular venues.

Design for Stadthalle Balingen, a new extension of the former Town Hall in historic town in Baden-Baden Wurttemberg. (photo courtesy 4a Architects)

In the far southwest corner of Baden-Würtemmberg is a town called Weil am Rhein, which borders the River Rhine and the Swiss city of Basel. It is here that the Vitra Design Museum and campus is located. Vitra is a Swiss furniture manufacturer, with headquarters near Basel, and is best known for producing the Herman Miller designed Aeron office chair as well as the Charles and Ray Eames-designed furniture.

Vitra campus, Weil am Rhein, sculpture “Balancing Tools” by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen (photo Ron Bernthal)

Vitra opened an ordinary-looking  manufacturing plant in Weil am Rhein in the early 1950’s, but after a fire destroyed the building in 1981 Vitra hired architect Nicholas Grimshaw to design a modern new factory, which led the company to start a stunning collection of other contemporary buildings by famous architects, including Frank Gehry, who designed the Vitra Design Museum, his first building in Europe. During the past 20 years, and continuing today, Zaha Hadid, Tado Ando, Renzo Piano, Herzog and de Meuron and many other well known designers contributed model structures to the site.

Jasper Morisson’s beautiful bus stop shelter is located on the main road in front of the Vitra campus, a public bus stop for transport to Weil am Rhein. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Today, the Vitra campus is a mecca for design and architectural enthusiasts, and tourists from around the world. Even the bus stop shelter on the road in front of the campus was beautifully designed by British industrial designer Jasper Morisson.

Vitra Design Museum was Frank Gehry’s first European building, and is one of several architectural gems on Vitra factory campus in Weil am Rhein. (photo courtesy Vitra)

Freiburg is known as Germany’s southernmost major city, and the country’s sunniest as well. Although some winter days can be dreary and cold, Freiburg gets more than 1,800 hours of sunshine per year, and the number of solar installations and solar research and manufacturing companies in the city has given Freiburg the nickname, Solar City. Even the city’s Badenova Stadium and City Hall, as well as many schools, churches and private houses are using solar installations.

In addition to the sun, energy is also produced in Freiburg by hydroelectric systems on the River Dreisam; wind turbines on the heights of the Black Forest; and other technologies like biomass plants. This ecologically minded city has been recognized as one of the greenest cities in the world, with a walking and bicycle friendly street pattern and an incredibly efficient public transit system. All this within a medieval university city with a town hall dating to 1303 and a cathedral built in 1513.

Photo shows the Solar Settlement in Vauban district, Freiburg, Germany, which generates 420,000 kWh of solar energy from a total photovoltaic output of about 445 kW peak per year. (Photo/permiegardener via Flickr)

Although regulations prevent high-rise buildings in the old part of Freiburg, modern structures flourish in several new urban neighborhoods where blue glass photovoltaic panels cover every rooftop. In 1994, in the Vauban district, a German architect named Rolf Disch built his private solar residence on a revolving pedestal that follows the sun’s rays across the sky. Known as the Heliotrope, it was the first building in the world to capture more energy than it uses.

The historic Heliotrope in Freiburg stands above the other solar installations in the district of Vauban (photo Ron Bernthal)

In addition to the Vauban district, a newer and larger sustainable neighborhood was constructed in Freiburg called Rieselfeld, where 12,000 residents live in a community which enacted Germany’s first mandatory, strict energy saving measures in every residence, especially using solar design. Cars have not been banned from the district but underground parking keeps them out of sight, and extremely low speed limits keeps vehicles moving no faster than a pedestrian. Bike lanes and a central light rail line make it easy for residents to get around with minimal fossil fuel and noise air pollution. This district was completed in 2010.

Freiburg, with its high-tech sustainable buildings and renewal energy psyche, is Germany’s “Green City,” but a historic Freiburg tradition, established in the 13th century, provides visitors with as much excitement as the more modern inventions. Throughout the Old City district small water-filled runnels, narrow, open stone trenches, run parallel to sidewalks and streets. The Bächle once served as the city’s water supply, fed by the nearby river Dreisam, but with modern water treatment plants and underground pipes the crystal clear Bachle are maintained these days because they are part of the soul of the city, and, according to many residents, the cool Black Forrest water running along the streets seem to make this clean and green city even cleaner.

The streets of Freiburg’s historic core still have the historic bache (water streams) which keeps the air clean and cool during hot summer days. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014, the modern Museum Frieder Burda occupies a pristine spot in the centrally-located Lichtentaler Park in the historic city of Baden-Baden, famous for its elegant bathing spas, summer music festivals, and traditional Christmas market. The naturally lit building, designed by the New York architect, Richard Meier, is snow white concrete and glass, and offers a beguiling juxtaposition with its adjoining neighbor, the 100 year-old Staatliche Kunsthalle, with the two buildings connected by a glass-enclosed, second-floor pedestrian bridge.

During the last half of its anniversary year The Museum Frieder Burda is holding a special show of the best parts of Frieder Burda’s private art collection, focusing on German Expressionism, as well as paintings from Pablo Picaso’s late period and the works of American Abstract Expression including work by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

Museum Freider Burda, designed by noted architect Richard Meier, is located with a part in the center of Baden-Baden. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Perhaps the two most popular modern structures in Baden-Würtemmberg are two post-modern museums in Stuttgart whose collections are quite different than the city’s art museums, but equally as impressive architectually. The Mercedes Benz Museum opened in 2006, not far from the auto company’s large manufacturing plant. Rising 150 feet into the sky, the Dutch firm responsible for the building’s exterior used aluminum and glass to create a unique structure based on a double helix, with no closed rooms or straight walls, and with 1,800 triangular window panes.

Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart. (photo courtesy Daimler AG)

The other fabulous looking museum building was designed by an Austrian architect to house the collection of Porsche automobiles, which are also manufactured in Stuttgart. The Porsche Museum, opened in Stuttgart in 2009, and displays the company’s earliest models, from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, developed by the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, as well as all the sleek, newer models built since. The building, designed by Delugan Meissl, is supported on just three V-shaped columns, and this post-modern, eye-catching, white glazed concrete façade seems to float above the ground like a monolith.

Porsche Museum, Stuttgart (photo courtesy Porsche AG)


Why Go? To visit a stunning glass-cube-designed museum in the middle of Stuttgart with five floors of contemporary art, and a rooftop restaurant that offers excellent casual dining by day, and gourmet dining at night, with nice views of the city at any time.

Where to Stay? The five-star Althoff Hotel am Schlossgarten has a beautiful, modern exterior, and exquisitely designed interior, in a park-like setting in the middle of Stuttgart.

Why Go? To see both the post-modern, silvery aluminum and glass double-helix-shaped museum building as well as Mercedes models from 1886, the birth of the legendary combination of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, to present day designs.

Where to Stay? The V8 Hotel, an automobile-themed property that is appears tacky at first, but truly does offer pop car culture with interesting design flourishes. About 12 miles SW of Stuttgart, near village of Böblingen and Motor World attraction.

Why Go? Of course, to see the “gem in the park,” as architect Richard Meier describes his perfect-looking, light-filled, iconic ode to Modernism. And don’t leave Baden-Baden without experiencing one of its many historic bath houses.

Where to Stay? The deluxe Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa has been welcoming guests since 1872 and exudes an old-world charm that still symbolizes much of Baden-Baden. The five-star property offers 100 rooms and suites, spa treatments, and a Michelin-star restaurant. It is also just a five-minute walk to the Museum Freider Burda.

Why Go? To see the collection of geometric-shaped paintings and other art work displayed in the unique, cubed-shaped glass and stone building next to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory, a firm made famous by its square chocolate bars. The museum café has outdoor sitting, and stock up on chocolate from the factory store next to the museum. It all comes together in the beautiful countryside south of Stuttgart.

Where to Stay? The modern Ibis Stuttgart Airport Messe is conveniently located near Stuttgart Airport, a little south of the city, which makes this an affordable, convenient lodging option just six miles (15 minutes) from Museum Ritter. The property also makes sense for early morning departures or late arrivals.

Why Go? All the Porsche models since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s developed by the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, are displayed in a building that is as beautiful, dramatic and well-designed as the sleek, shiny vehicles inside.

Where to Stay? The V8 Hotel, an automobile-themed property that is appears tacky at first, but truly does offer pop car culture with interesting design flourishes. About 12 miles SW of Stuttgart, near village of Böblingen and Motor World attraction.

Why Go? To see the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Frank Gehry-designed museum, and the other design-driven structures, including those by Zaha Hadid, Tado Ando, Renzo Piano, Alvaro Siza, Jasper Morisson, and Herzog and de Meuron, all constructed on the Vitra furniture factory campus.

Where to Stay? Radisson Blu is a stylish, well-designed, modern property in downtown Basel, Switzerland, about 15 minutes’ drive from the Vitra complex.

Why Go? To see the solar power and sustainably-designed homes, offices and retail shops, as well as the unique Heliotrope house, in this unique neighborhood a few minutes outside center city Freiburg.

Where to Stay? Designhotel am Stadtgarten is beautifully designed hotel with walking distance to the historic Münsterplatz and University of Freiburg. Vis-à-vis café-bar-lounge offers lovely outdoor patio for drinking and dining for lunch and dinner in season, and complimentary buffet breakfast.

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