Haus der Geschichte – House of history – BonnThird Places 14 Jun 2019
The renowned German museum Haus der Geschichte – House of History – in Bonn is celebrating its 25th birthday. This quarter-life milestone offers an opportunity to rethink the design of the museum’s Information Center. The result is a contemporary lounge embracing digitalization that invites visitors to explore German history, to meet others, and to enjoy some time well-spent.
Same old story, new needs
At Haus der Geschichte, German history from the end of the Second World War until present day is presented – through exhibitions, events, online projects, and publications. The main branch is located in Bonn, the former capital of Germany and provincial town once conquered by the Allies. It’s one of the four museums that belong to the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Foundation.
Twenty-five years ago, the Museum opened the permanent exhibition “Our History. Germany since 1945” which showcases over 7,000 objects that outline German contemporary history from 1945 to the present. The Haus also organizes four temporary shows every year. All of this requires a well-organized Information Center. The former center had a neutral interior design that emphasized the museum’s institutional role. By now, as time has passed and history been made, the needs of the younger visitors have also evolved. Today, the new generation processes more information than ever before, leading to an increased risk of ‘attention fatigue’. Places to sit down, unwind and stay for a while can offer a relaxing remedy. However, Haus der Geschichte wanted to do a little more than add a few extra seating opportunities for its twenty-five year anniversary.
Blending into existing architecture
The task was to increase the quality of stay – by creating time well-spent – in the Information Center, so that the space would become welcoming. A lounge where people can experience and process the enormous variety of information offered by the Museum in a different way. An informal room is able to evoke innovation, as it lowers barriers between people – creating an environment where people are more likely to mingle, hang out, chat and exchange ideas together. The main challenge was to incorporate the Lounge – the official new name of the Information Center – in such a way that it would seamlessly blend into the existing architecture. Additionally, the experiential value of the Lounge had to be more in line with that of the museum, without becoming part of it, because that would lead to unwanted mixing. Instead of designing an entire (new) experience, we had to add a new interpretation of an existing room. This interpretation had to relate to an existing functionality while maintaining an overall unity.
An informal room is able to evoke innovation, as it lowers barriers between people – creating an environment where people are more likely to mingle, hang-out, chat and exchange ideas together.
The circle of life and library
To better understand the needs of the Lounge, we traveled to Bonn and lived and worked at the job-site for a week, as we conducted the design through a sequence of intense live workshops together with the President and staff of the Haus. By doing so, we created a design that fits the House of History – not only our personal needs. Breaking out of the neutral mold, we added the color yellow along with nuanced textures to the fairly rigid scheme of the original situation. While the colors became louder, neutrality was maintained in shape by selecting one which can bring people together: a circle. This circle also allows elements of the Lounge to be used outside as well.
By creating the Lounge, we were able to add another layer of informality to the public sphere of the museum. On the architecturally integrated stage in the Lounge, so-called contemporary witnesses are interviewed or authors present their books. Visitors can take a seat on one of the comfortable sofas to read magazines, newspapers, and books on contemporary German history. For a more modern twist on the past, they can also choose to experience the sonic chairs and tablets with digital information access for history enthusiasts. Honoring the integrity of Germany’s turbulent history in an accessible and modern way, Haus der Geschichte presented its users with a valuable anniversary gift.
The Haus der Geschichte Lounge is a co-creation of Aat Vos (design, strategy, creative director) and FRANKE Architektur | Innenarchitektur (design & engineering partner).
Photography: Jürgen Ritterbach and Stiftung Haus der Geschichte/Axel Thünker & Maike Bossler