Neues Museum - Berlin


Photography: Rory Gardiner

Location: Museum Island, Berlin
Architect: David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap
Client: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz represented by Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung
User: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project start: 1997
Completion: 2009
Partners: Harald Müller, Martin Reichert, Eva Schad, Alexander Schwarz
Project architects: Jamie Fobert, Mark Randel, Martin Reichert, Eva Schad
Landscape architect: Levin Monsigny, Landschaftsarchitekten
Exhibition design: architetto Michele de Lucchi S.r.L.
Structural engineer: Ingenieurgruppe Bauen
Services engineer: Jaeger, Mornhinweg+Partner Ingenieurgesellschaft
Site supervision: Lubic & Woehrlin GmbH
Project controlling: Ernst & Young Real Estate GmbH

Neues Museum is without a doubt one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 21st century. It is a project that deals with layers upon layers of some of the most complex questions and challenges architects face today and still manages not just to solve the puzzle but to create a work of art that architects will turn to for decades if not centuries for inspiration.
Moving through the building the spaces and exhibitions, millennia and centuries, seem to merge seamlessly, yet are still distinctively different. The large terrazzo like blocks, forming the main staircase is reminiscent of the monumental architecture of the New Kingdom of Egypt, stretching out like the feet of a great sphinx, timeless and mysterious and still strikingly contemporary. It doesn't really matter though as you walk around through the maze of rooms and courtyards: what's new or old, restored or recreated, contemporary or classical, or even building or artifact. It all comes together into one coherent impression that result in a sort of quietness. In which old and new elevate each other in a respectful and reconciled way.
Perhaps this quiet cohesiveness about the building is a consequence of one of the projects main "concepts", to let new and old merge smoothly through shades of grey instead of contrasting each other.

Or maybe it's because the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is so consistent trough the layers of styles and ages. Or because of the design process that allowed for the project to take shape over more than a decade into something organic instead of being developed mainly as a concept and designed in front of a computer screen.

Either way there is a very special quality to this project that is hard to put the finger on. It's a testament to what great craftsmen, architects, designers, engineers and other professionals can create when given the time, space, budget and level of ambition as in this project. It is already influencing projects around the world and has shown that the path forward does not need to be a contrast to nor a replication of the past but that there are countless levels of interesting interactions between the past and present that can be explored to elevate the architecture of tomorrow.

A new building and entrance to the Museum Island, called the James Simon Gallery, is currently being constructed between the Neues Museum and the Kupfergraben canal echoing the historic master plan of the island. The new building, also designed by David Chipperfield Architects is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

Site Plan  -  Museum Island  -  1. Bode Museum   2. Pergamon Museum   3. Alte Nationalgalerie   4. James Simon Gallery   5. Altes Museum   6. Berliner Dom   7. Lustgarten

Plan  -  Ground Floor  -  1. Main Entrance    2. Vestibule   3. Fatherland Room    4. South Vestibule   5. Employees' entrance  6. Flat Dome Room  7. Café   8. Void above Greek Courtyard   9. Ethnographical Room   10. Historical Room   11. Void above Egyptian Courtyard   12. Hypostyle   13. Tomb Room  14. Mythological Room.   © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

Elevation East with the main entrance. © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

Elevation West towards Kupfergraben canal. Now with James Simon Gallery in front. © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

David Chipperfield Architects about the project

Development of Museumsinsel (Museum Island), previously known as the Spreeinsel (Spree Island), began in the sixteenth century as a pleasure garden for the Stadtschloss (City Palace). The Altes Museum (Old Museum) by Karl Friedrich Schinkel was completed in 1828, and then in 1841 King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia ordered his court architect, Friedrich August Stüler, to draw up a plan to develop the land behind the Altes Museum – hitherto used for commercial purposes – and create a ‘sanctuary for the arts and sciences’. Designed by Stüler, the Neues Museum (New Museum) became the first component of this visionary haven, and was erected between 1841 and 1859. The Neues Museum was the first three-storey museum ever built and was organised as a solitaire construction executed according to a simple ground plan that enclosed two courtyards and replaced the central rotunda and cupola used in the Altes Museum with a rectangular stair hall that rose through all floors and occupied the full width of the building.

Extensive bombing during World War II left the building in ruins with some sections severely damaged and others completely destroyed. Few attempts at repair were made after the war, and the wreck was left exposed with only a minimum of consolidation and protection undertaken during the GDR period. After David Chipperfield Architects’ appointment to the project in 1997–98, the building and restoration took nearly eleven years to complete, and the entire Museum Island was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1999.

The project was unique given that no earlier reconstruction attempt had been fully realised over a relatively long period of quiescence. Its patron’s original intention of linking museum design and presentation in a symbiotic relationship of exhibits and exhibition spaces had not only lost its appeal for the contemporary visitor but in many cases could simply no longer be created since much of the original material – both artefacts and rooms – no longer existed, especially in the larger spaces where this didactic unity was originally most apparent.
When considering the way forward, it was clear that the ruin should not be interpreted as a backdrop for a completely new architecture but neither was an exact reconstruction of what had been irreversibly lost in the war seen as an option. A single continuous structure that incorporates nearly all of the available damaged fabric while allowing a series of contemporary elements to be added became the preferred path, often described as ‘the third way’.

The key aims of the project were to re-complete the original volume, and to repair and restore the parts that remained after the destruction of World War II. The process can be described as a multidisciplinary interaction between repairing, conserving, restoring and recreating all of its components. The original sequence of rooms was restored with newly built sections that create continuity with the existing structure. The almost archaeological restoration followed the guidelines of the Charter of Venice, respecting the historical structure in its different states of preservation. The new exhibition rooms are built of large-format prefabricated concrete elements consisting of white cement mixed with Saxonian marble chips. Formed from the same concrete elements, the new main staircase repeats the formal idea of the original without replicating it, and sits within the majestic hall that is preserved only as a brick volume, devoid of its former ornamentation.

Other new volumes – the north-west wing, with the Egyptian court and the Apollo risalit; the apse in the Greek courtyard; and the South Dome – are built of recycled handmade bricks, complementing the preserved sections.

With the reinstatement and completion of the mostly preserved colonnade at the eastern and southern sides of the Neues Museum, the pre-war urban situation is re-established to the east. In October 2009, after more than sixty years as a ruin, the Neues Museum reopened to the public as the third restored building on Museum Island, exhibiting the collections of the Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Pre- and Early History.

The building bears witness to its complex history while some of its original technological innovations have been laid bare. The very incompleteness of its decorative pattern helps to create a holistic understanding of the historic and contemporary structure and its original and current purpose.

Aerial view of the site from 1985. In the background Alte Nationalgalerie and Pergamonmuseum. © SMB / Zentralarchiv

The Staircase Hall after the destruction of WWII and decades of decay © SMB Zentralarchiv / Photo Rosa Mai

The reimagined Staircase Hall.

Plan  -  Level 0  -  1. Egyptian Courtyard     2. Greek Courtyard    3. Connection to the Altes Museum  4. Connection to the New Entrance Building    5. Connection to the Pergamon Museum      6. Mechanical Equipment Room   © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

Plan  -  Level 2  -  1. Staircase Hall   2. Greek Room   3. Platform above Egyptian Courtyard   4. Apollo Room    5. North Dome Room   6. Room of the Niobids   7. Bacchus Room   8. Roman Room   9. South Dome Room   10. Medieval Room   11. Modern Room  © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

Section through courtyards. © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam

Section through Staircase Hall. © David Chipperfield Architects / studio esinam





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