December 11th, 2019.
“Sometimes, the connective tissue is more critical than the muscle. Without it, everything falls apart. It’s the same in architecture, where connecting parts can be more pivotal to the experience of a building than the spaces they link. An entrance or staircase, a corridor or a colonnade – any of these can define a building from the first moment.”
– David Chipperfield on how Berlin’s Neues Museum reconciles past and present.
The Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island was originally designed by Friedrich August Stüler and built between 1841 and 1859. Extensive bombing during the Second World War left the building in ruins, with entire sections missing completely and others severely damaged. Few attempts at repair were made after the war, and the structure was left exposed to nature. In 1997, David Chipperfield Architects won the international competition for the rebuilding of the Neues Museum in collaboration with Julian Harrap.
The key aim of the project was to recomplete the original volume, and encompassed the repair and restoration of the parts of the building that remained after the destruction of the Second World War. The original sequence of rooms was restored with new building sections that create continuity with the existing structure. The archaeological restoration followed the guidelines of the Charter of Venice, respecting the historical structure in its different states of preservation. All the gaps in the existing structure were filled in without competing with the existing structure in terms of brightness and surface. The restoration and repair of the existing is driven by the idea that the original structure should be emphasized in its spatial context and original materiality – the new reflects the lost without imitating it.
The new exhibition rooms are built of large format pre-fabricated concrete elements consisting of white cement mixed with Saxonian marble chips. Formed from the same concrete elements, the new main staircase repeats the original without replicating it, and sits within a majestic hall that is preserved only as a brick volume, devoid of its original ornamentation.
Other new volumes – the Northwest 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 side of the Neues Museum, the pre-war urban situation is re-established to the East. A new building, the James Simon Galerie, between the Neues Museum and the Kupfergraben canal, echo the urban situation of the site pre-1938.
In 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.
Feature image by Joerg von Bruchhausen.
Body images by Bartosz Haduch.
Words compiled by Tiffany Jade with assets kindly provided by David Chipperfield Architects.