The museum building, the former coal washing plant, is 60 metres long, 30 metres wide and 40 metres high, making it the largest building at the Zollverein coal mine. In operation, it was a large machine used for sorting, classifying, intermediate storage and distribution of the hard coal. The structural design is completely subordinate to these functions.
The conversion of the building by the architects Rem Koolhaas and Heinrich Böll takes account of the preservation order. They opened up the building from top to bottom - analogous to the original production flow. The public is first transported to the 24 metre level by escalator and enters the coal washing plant in the Zollverein International Visitor Centre, where they are welcomed with all service functions such as information and ticket counters, cloakroom, café and shop.
The levels above the 24 metre level, with their largely preserved machinery, are part of the Zollverein Monument Trail and, on the 30 metre level, house the Portal of Industrial Heritage, which provides information about the impressive landscape of industrial museums and monuments in North Rhine-Westphalia and the structural transformation of the Metropole Ruhr.
The floors below the visitor centre are reserved for the exhibition rooms and depots of the Ruhr Museum. Where coal was once stored, cultural assets are now preserved and presented. Spectacular museum rooms have been created in the former industrial building that a new building would never have been able to offer. They alone are a great attraction for visitors.