July 6 – October 14, 2018
The Roofs of Munich – Models of Historic Architectural Engineering

Roof structures are architecture’s unsung masterpieces. Architects have always had to design buildings in such a way that carpenters could actually roof them. Roofs thus reflect what was technically possible at a particular moment in time and can tell us a great deal about a city’s history. Almost all of Munich’s historic roofs were destroyed in the Second World War. In this exhibition, Munich’s historic roofscape has been reconstructed through large-scale models.

These models were created recently as part of doctoral studies at the Technical University of Munich’s Department of Building History, Building Archaeology and Conservation. They are based on research into archival sources and historical architectural drawings. They mostly reconstruct the roofs as they were at the time when they were built, to a scale of 1:20. Twelve structures were selected as illustrations of outstanding technical achievement.

The Church of St. Peter, the city’s oldest parish, spotlights a difference between two construction methods that were both typical of their time: that of the medieval nave roof (built after 1327) and that of the Baroque choir roof, which is supported by trusses which would have been modern at the time when it was built in around 1630. A development that was widespread throughout southern Germany can now be observed “under one roof”.

St. Mary’s pilgrimage church in Ramersdorf has been fortunate to survive the centuries unscathed, offering us a glimpse into the heart of an original building. The structure that has supported the roof to this very day was erected around the vault back in around 1370. It is an extraordinarily ingenious construction which evidently took its design from roofs in northern Italy. The model, which was built in 2012, is based on detailed measurements of the actual roof.

Armory, Am Anger (Sankt-Jakobs-Platz, Munich), Model reconstruction, 2017, by Clemens Knobling /H: 134 cm x W: 90 cm x L: 126 cm/ Roof structure, arsenal floors and vaults 1491-1493, © Münchner Stadtmuseum
Armory, Am Anger (Sankt-Jakobs-Platz, Munich), Model reconstruction, 2017, by Clemens Knobling /H: 134 cm x W: 90 cm x L: 126 cm/ Roof structure, arsenal floors and vaults 1491-1493, © Münchner Stadtmuseum

Three major works of architecture that have defined Munich’s cityscape all emerged in the late 15th century. The first is the Anger Street complex with its armory and stables, now home to the Münchner Stadtmuseum. The second is the Old Town Hall with its vaulted Grand Hall that originally housed the city’s Morris Dancers, while the third is the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), an edifice that can be seen from far and wide. For a long period of time, its immense steep-sloped roof (‘Hallensteildach’) (1477–1478) remained one of the largest roof structures anywhere in the world. This exhibition allows us to make a direct comparison between the Frauenkirche and a model of the Church of St. Martin in Landshut and appreciate just how far the competing Dukes of Upper and Lower Bavaria were prepared to go in borrowing different technologies from each other.

The Antiquarium at the Munich Residence, dating from around 1570, is a unique example of palatial court architecture. Its roof structure offers an early insight into the unwanted consequences of transplanting Renaissance designs north of the Alps: the gently sloping roofs of Italy may be supremely elegant, but they are ill-suited to our more northerly climate.

The first “Italian” roof in Munich was designed for the Theatine Church in around 1668. The flat roof structure effectively showcases the freestanding dome which, together with the church’s twin-tower façade, is such an iconic part of Munich’s cityscape.

The Turnierhaus (Tournament House) that once stood along the Munich’s Hofgarten (Court Garden) was demolished 200 years ago. The model in the exhibition brings a structure back to life which is a testament to Munich’s incredibly audacious and skillful craftsmen and their impressive widespan roof structures. Even as long ago as 1660, they had the expertise to construct a roof for a stadium built to hold thousands of spectators and manage to avoid blocking their view with unsightly pillars.

The National Theater was destroyed in a fire in 1823. When it was rebuilt, its design was already informed by the fire-safety principles that we hold so dear today. By then building physics had emerged as an academic discipline and it became possible to combine international standards with traditional South-German carpentry techniques.

Finally, the historic roof of the Church of St. Ludwig fully documents the technological progress of the 19th century. We can compare its new iron structures built at the dawn of the age of engineering, in around 1840, with its handcrafted features which bear all the hallmarks of the traditional techniques that Munich’s builders were reluctant to abandon.

These models of historic roofs are complemented by illustrations of the Olympic Park’s tent roof structures.

Indeed, each model is accompanied by an illustration for comparative purposes, together with information about its architectural history and technical details. The idea is to enable non-specialists to understand how roof structures work, differences between standard trusses with vertical posts (“Stehender Dachstuhl”) and typically German “Liegender Dachstuhl” trusses, the reasons why trusses themselves are not particularly important in terms of load dissipation, and to offer definitions of fancy-sounding but far from self-explanatory technical terms (e.g. “purlin”).

All models were built between 2007 and 2017 by Dr. des. Clemens Knobling, whose doctoral thesis, “Münchner Dächer” (The Roofs of Munich), is currently in press. Dr. Knobling has generously donated all these models to the Münchner Stadtmuseum.