My twin sisters used to be pen pals with Stuttgart twins by the names of Franziska and Martina Zehrer- and it was they who convinced me on a visit one year that everyone in Stuttgart drove a Mercedes, so I approached the city’s UN Studio’s Mercedez Benz Museum a few weeks ago with huge expectation and more than a little circumspection.
Circumspection, not because I was thinking of circles, which UN Studio obviously were when they designed it, but because in 2006 I’d reviewed their tome ‘UN Studio’, which included the museum and come away from it partly seduced, partly ambivalent.
I didn’t mind their notion of ‘mobile forces’- for them any parameter helps generate form. It could be anything; but here, like Corb’s Villa Savoye, it’s the turning circle of a car or the angle of a ramp to take it up through the building. Fair enough, but it’s my view that these things alone can’t generate great design. Yet in this way, their Möbius House and the Benz Museum become exercises in wondrous contortion- but without an underlying politic, and I have to ask myself, for what reason?
That said, the fact that van Berkel and Bos’ building screams about its internal double helical machinations from its exterior is exciting - its glass and silver aluminium cladding twisting across its surface, alternately revealing and hiding the triangular mesh of structure just beyond. And once inside, there’s real drama in the central concrete atrium, its three James Bond-style lifts bobbing up and down like a piston demonstration, shuttling all the visitors to the top of the museum to start their slow corkscrew through its helix. Quite how UN Studio merge these technically unconnected spirals is a conundrum lost on the visitor as you ramp down through the exhibition, but you’re having way too much fun to worry about that anyway. The route is indivisible from the museum, and caught in gravity’s momentum, I have to admit, it’s a disorientating and thrilling ride to ground through the firm’s 125 years of history.
My cousin, a Porsche mechanic and petrol head with a souped-up Supra told me there’s nothing better than a well executed donut, and in the oeuvre of vehicular curation, UN Studio too have pulled one off here. At one point, I imagined this space instead full of art, and then I thought of the Guggenheim’s ramps stuffed with old Mercs and wondered which I’d prefer to see. Maybe, as my cousin says,it's just a question of what you want from a car- sheer performance or classic style?