Saturday, April 7, 2012

From Neues Museum to Neue Nationalgalerie

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation recently announced that David Chipperfield won the contract to renovate the New National Gallery at the Kulturforum in Berlin. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, stated: “I am confident that with David Chipperfield, this icon of modern architecture is in good hands. In our work together on the Museum Island, I greatly appreciated his sensitivity to historic architecture and the conceptual clarity of his approach.”

I agree that Chipperfield showcased his refined sensibilities and did a great job in the restoration of the Neues Museum. When I visited the building, I was fascinated by the grand but appropriate new gestures, the subtle repair of details, the elegant co-existence of old and new...

From the Vestibule to the Staircase Hall
The Staircase Hall
The Mythological Room
The Medieval Room
The Room of the Niobids with beautiful bowstring girders
The Modern Room
Small transitional space covered with copper
The Majolika Room
The Western Art Chamber
The Egyptian Court
Upper access to the Egyptian Court
The Egyptian Court: “structure within structure”
The Greek Court remains full height

But still, the news about the New National Gallery troubles me deeply. Winning a Mies van der Rohe Award doesn’t give you the right to mess around with a Mies building. The Friedrich Stüler Neues Museum is more than 150 years old now, and it has suffered severe bomb damage during WWII. What’s wrong with the New National Gallery? It was only built in 1968. According to the announcement, the following measures are planned: “the renovation of all the building’s structural elements (steel supports, reinforced concrete, steel and glass façade), the restoration of visible surfaces (stone, terrace), the replacement of security and fire protection equipment, the updating and preservation of all visible fixtures (lighting etc.) and the administration rooms, along with the restoration of existing furniture. Furthermore, the coat check, museum shop and café will be updated to meet current museum standards.”

It is this “furthermore” that frightens me. Does it mean there will be a gift shop and a café on the ground floor? Are they commercializing a space of the ultimate sublime? The vast empty lobby is the best example of the Miesian “Universal Space” concept. It is meant to be completely open and remain undefined. Any specific program would ruin the idea. I really hope the shop and café stay in the basement. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Chipperfield was appointed Director of the upcoming Venice Biennale. I like the title “Common Ground” he chose, which celebrates at this right moment an interconnected architectural culture and encourages sharing, collaboration, and dialogue. I hope he finds common ground with Mies and maintains the original purity and spirit of the New National Gallery. Restoration work will begin in 2015 and conclude in 2018, and the gallery will be closed during those three years. I’d better go see it again before it risks being turned into something else.

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