Through the passion for travelling and collection of Count Franz’ I. zu Erbach-Erbach (1754-1823), the Odenwald town of Erbach became the center of German ivory carving. As of autumn 2016, a small but exquisite part of the ivory sculptures has found a new home in the Erbach Palace.
The exceptional exhibition concept was developed by Sichau & Walter Architects BDA with an invisible lighting design scheme from Licht Kunst Licht, recently awarded with a special mention at Codega Awards 2017.
An innovative concept
The concept for the museum was for the exhibition to free itself from the building envelope and present the collection of carved ivory in blacked-out rooms painted in anthracite. Across this almost disintegrated space leads a pier that offsets the different floor levels and interconnects the showcases with a proverbial red thread. Like luminous glass cubes, the display cases are lined up on the walkway. The idea for this was to create an exhibition where the exhibits appear to be floating in mid-space and visually disappear.
Achieving this “floating” aesthetic wasn’t easy. It was difficult to maintain the invisibility of the space, as we had to pay attention that no light source would be reflected in the show case glazing (especially in glass surfaces). Therefore, all light sources had to be carefully shielded.
In order to support the idea of a haze, the light colour was always meant to be neutral or cool, in opposition to the warm white light colour of the show case lighting. Initially, the colour temperature was of 4,000K for this element, but it ended up being 5,000K.
The lower third of the showcase glazing is lightly frosted and fitted with edge lighting, concealed in the base. As a result, the frosting assumes a gentle brightness, that shrouds the object holders like a mist. Additionally, small profiles with miniature projectors are located in the upper edge of the showcase.
These offer an accentuated and glare free orchestration of the exhibits. This evokes the impression that the figurines emerge from a sort of fog. The pier and its low balustrade are clad in red leather.
The walking surface is emphasized by a concealed LED light ribbon, integrated in its lateral upstand, thus transforming it into a seemingly suspended path in an intangible, almost imperceptible spatial envelope. One of the spaces uses existing historical closets for the exhibition of many small objects, fixed to the fleece-clad rear wall. These are set in scene by means of concealed linear light sources inside the furniture. The last space sees off the visitor with a glimpse at yet unprocessed elephant and mammoth tusks, thus making also the controversial side of the exhibition palpable. Miniature projectors on the ceiling underline the drama of this exhibit.
As a whole, the lighting designers underscore the contrasting exhibition scenery through the use of hidden, glare-free light sources and brilliantly orchestrates its treasures.
A minimalist lighting scheme
Through out the museum, Licht Kunst Licht employed a very minimalist lighting scheme, whereby the majority of the lighting was on the walkway balustrades and the exhibits themselves. As such, the exhibition appears to have very little contact with the building itself. This approach throughout the museum serves to make the rest of the space disappear, allowing visitors to focus purely on the intricate ivory carvings on show.