Darmstadt’s Kunsthalle, a venue for exhibiting art, was built in 1956/57 in the style of classic modernism according to plans by Theo Pabst. It was one of the first exhibition buildings to be erected after the Second World War. In its simplicity and minimalist design vocabulary, it dispenses with the monumental gestures of earlier museum buildings and thus represents the new beginning undertaken after 1945.
The Kunsthalle stands on the former site of an earlier exhibition building, which belonged to the “Kunstverein für das Großherzogtum Hessen” (Art Association for the Grand Duchy of Hesse). The neo-Renaissance style building had been built in 1889 but was destroyed during the Second World War. Only its Rheintor (Rhine gate) portico remained. Now reconstructed, the portico still reminds us today of the site’s architectural history. It marks the entry from Rheinstraße and, along with a fence, defines a forecourt to the Kunsthalle.
The Kunsthalle Darmstadt is designed as a clearly structured rectilinear block with broad expanses of glass facing south. Like a display window, it permits views inside and merges interior and exterior space. This effect is intensified by the terrazzo pavers of the forecourt, which pick up and continue the grid of the clad steel columns. The interior is dominated by the central exhibition space, which is illuminated by a Plexiglas ceiling – then the most modern material. All the exterior walls of the building are clad with white ceramic tiles.
A mere five years after its completion, the first extension to the Kunsthalle was made by adding a lecture hall and offices, also designed by Theo Pabst. At that time, Pabst had the portico to the south removed. It was rebuilt in 1987 when the Kunsthalle was extended for a second time, this time by former students of Pabst, Hans-Henning Heinz and Edgar Eilingsfeld. They incorporated original fragments of the Rheintor into the reconstruction, and made their extension to the north. Designed as a garden hall, the annex opens towards the adjacent green area to the north. In its dimensions and choice of materials, the addition makes reference to the main building.
Beginning in 2014, the heritage-protected Kunsthalle was completely refurbished. Completion of the general refurbishment in 2019 will entail redesigning the forecourt by removing the fencing and planting the open spaces.
As an exhibition venue, the Kunsthalle offers a diverse programme dedicated to current trends in art across all genres. The exhibition activities focus on established as well as young artists, whose support is of special importance to Darmstadt’s Kunstverein – the sponsor of the Kunsthalle. A diverse range of educational offerings and outreach activities – from artist talks and public tours to the supporting programme that accompanies exhibitions, with lectures, film showings and regular evening events – round off the offerings of the Kunsthalle. [KS/DK]