Two architects – One museum
Stüler, Chipperfield and the Neues Museum in Berlin
Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s governing Mayor, says the following about the work of British architect David Chipperfield: “What David Chipperfield has achieved here is an obeisance before Stüler and a homage to classicism.”
In spring of this year, Wowereit presented the key to the building’s owner, the “Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz”. It was the joyful end to a long story, which hasn’t always been a happy one.
The Second World War left the Neues Museum with major damage. It was only in the mid-eighties of the last millennium that reconstruction started. Now, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the Museum is opening its doors again, the last of five to do so on the Museum Island.
The building, designed by Friedrich August Stüler, welcomed it first visitors in 1859. Back then, the Königliches Museum, built by Stüler’s teacher Karl Friedrich Schinkel, had already become the Altes Museum some time before. And that in more than one respect for Stüler employed an innovative building technique and, in the process, wrote a piece of architectural history.
The restoration requirements were therefore immense: Stüler’s architectural template, the condition of the ruins plus the Charter of Venice, an international directive for the preservation of monuments.
Old walls and pillars supported by new build sections
Chipperfield’s take on this is clear: “Here it’s about remembrance and history not the scars of the past. It’s like a painting – if it’s unfinished and you finish painting it, then you no longer have an original.”
The result accords with this: the repaired imperfections are intentionally less splendid than the original. The restoration and renewal of the original room layout and original dimensions, created with newly constructed sections to supplement the old stock, simply reflecting what was lost. The beauty of Stüler’s building contrasts with the simplicity of visible tiles and a specially developed concrete made from white cement and marble from Saxony. The upgraded decoration and ornamentation of the original stock complements the new build areas, which do without decorative building elements. With grey blinds and sand-coloured leather covers on the chairs, benches and visitor lockers in the cloakroom, the colour scheme is restrained as well. Visitors walk on modern concrete tiles and historic mosaic, terrazzo and marble cement floors.
These rooms now house the Egyptian Museum and the Museum for Pre- and Ancient History. There will undoubtedly be visitors keen to see the work of the two architects.
The five museums on Berlin’s Museum Island are the: Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Bode-Museum and the Pergamonmuseum.
Photos 1, 2 and 3 © Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield