Lokremise - Sammlung Hauser & Wirth  Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, 2000

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© Paul Robbrecht

Conversion of the Sankt Gallen Lockremise into an exhibtion space for the 'Sammlung Hauser Und Wirth'

Sammlung Hauser Und Wirth

Sankt Gallen

1999 - 2000


Floor surface
3.400 sqm

Robbrecht en Daem architecten

Catherine Fierens

Art Depot
Exhibition Space Sankt Gallen

By Koen van Synghel

For some years the private art collection Sammlung Hauser und Wirth has been housed in the Lockremise, a former engine shed in Saint Gall. This striking industrial building, dating from the beginning ol the last century, gives the collection a special glow. The circular Lockremise, once a shed for some twenty railway engines, provides 'natural' industrial monumentalism. Within this setting the architects Robbrecht & Daem were given the freedom to 'make space' for contemporary art.

The fate of the Sammlung Hauser und Wirth collection is one shared by many private collections. The lime came es when a private collection, because of its site, significance and historical representativeness, attains a kind of public importance then the initial collector dies. The driving force, the personal insight and involvement underlying the collection, vanishes with him and the art collection loses touch with the new avant-garde of artists. If a private collection wants to be anything more than an anachronistic treasure house then the question of the identity and the dynamics of the collection soon attains a public dimension.

By moving to the Lockremise in Saint Gall, the Sammlung Hauser und Wirth took a conscious step towards operating as a particular kind of Museum. It has in any case developed - in the Germanic tradition - into an art gallery that maintains active contact with modern art. A programme of events, happenings and small exhibition projects complements exhibitions of works selected from the permanent collection.

The brutal but purely industrial architecture of the Lockremise seemed at first sight to be an ideal exhibition space. After all, the monumental char-
acter of industrial architecture has often proved a suitably neutraI place for the exhibition of contemporary art. Industrial buildings provide an inter-
esting alternative to museums, where convention and the gravitas of history cast an all too heavy shadow on the freedom to display art and look at it.
But the ideal qualities of Lockremise proved slightly less perfect in practice. An engine shed comes nowhere near satisfying the requirements for displaying and storing works of art in satisfactory conditions, which means that its rough industrial architecture needed to be air-conditioned and converted into a space within which it would be possible to keep works of art safely.

The commission was awarded to the architects Robbrecht & Daem.

They were able to look back on an impressive career, which included the design of temporary exhibitions and galleries, and of museums. Notable examples of their work include Wall for a Painting and Floor for a Sculpture, the temporary Aue pavilions in Kassel and the conversion of the Boymans van Beuningen Museum into a new type of museum. In Saint Gall the architects chose a daringly baroque and theatrical operation. While the temporary Aue pavilions derived their references from trains, the Holocaust and stations, for the rebuilding of the Lockremise

Robbrecht drew eagerly on the history of architecture. The striking thing is that despite all the building's curlicues and anecdotal references to the history of art, he managed to keep the intrinsic structure of the architecture in the foreground. Order, light, rhythm and material were all transformed into a contemporary idiom.

In Saint Gall the inexorable radial structure of the Lockremise was converted with the skill of a supreme virtuoso into a new contrapuntal play on walls. Sometimes the walls play a part in the structure of the building, sometimes they definitely do not. The fascinating thing about this quasi-cabbalistic play on walls is the way that various shapes and sites of exhibition rooms are articulated within the aid shed to farm an interior within
an interior.
The backs of these walls create highly individual, place-related rooms, in contrast to the existing walls of the Lockremise, which have been left rough and untreated. The inside feeling provided by the Lockremise's new interior and the outside feeling provided by the cold, raw reality of the engine shed is given spalial emphasls by the use of a type of stylised cornice. The walls are bordered on the inside by a flat cornice about half a meire high, whereas the walls at the back are left undecorated.

This manneristic signature, finely balanced between an explicit respect for the spirit of the existing building and the decision to carry out a determinedly formal operation, results in an almost 'classic' piece of museum architecture. Clearly the architectonic operations carried out by Robbrecht & Daem in the Lockremise were not part of a search for a 'newfangled' experiment or a flirtation with the 'technologisation' of architecture. The result is an obstinate, stubborn piece of architecture that superimposes its own laws on those of an Industrial engine shed.
The determinedly individual character - both of the Lockremise and the Sammlung Hauser und Wirth - should attract a wide public, if only because of the freedom of thought and action which lie al their heart. It is odd to realise that when a private collection burst out at the seams of its host's 'home' and assumed the proportions of a museum collection, such a collection, with the aid of a fascinating piece of industrial patrimony and contemporary architectural imagination, became part of the urban dynamics.

The character of an art collector is totally unlike that of a museum Director. A collector has no need to concern himself with the public. He is free to buy whatever he wants to put together his own history of art. And it makes no difference whether the works of art are for study or simply acquired because they are a joy to look at.

Years later, inside the perimeter of a public building, this uncomplicated freedom achieves a new dimension. The role of contemporary architecture may be limited, yet it is this architecture that has given an authentic site in Saint Gall a second youth by its inspired translation of the needs of art into the art of building.