Friday, 18 December 2009

Neues Musuem - Berlin

The Neues Museum in Berlin has opened to critical acclaim and the praise it is recieving is all down to the beautiful and painstaking renovation carried out by David Chipperfield Architects, in collaboration with conservation specialists Julian Harrap. The museum was designed by Friedrich August Steuler and built between 1841 and 1849. It's structure and contents were sensational at the time, the incredibly lightweight structure used the latest technology and was very innovative. The museum was damaged in 2 bombing raids during the Second World War and was left as a ruin in East Berlin. It was only after the Berlin wall was removed that any care was taken of the building and in 1997 David Chipperfield won the competition to rebuild it. This was not without controversy as many felt that such an important German building should not be left in the hands of a British Architect. There was also many differing opinions about the fate of the building, many wanted it restored to it's original design while others thought it should be replaced with a modernist structure. Chipperfield has not gone for either of these options but has managed to retain the buildings integrity by restoring original art work whilst also adding modern alterations.

The Ruined Building

The new central staircase and main hub of the museum. The staircase has caused a lot of controversy because of it's bold form and use of concrete. When describing the design on their website the architects say that "the new reflects the lost without imitating it". I think this has been successful, the stair has enhanced the original space and the scale, proportion and symmetry of the intervention echoes the past design without becoming a copy.

Restored Frescoes. When restoring the building the Architects worked to the principles set out in the Venice Charter and respected the historical structure in its different states of preservation. As you can see from the image above any damage to the fresco has been carefully restored with modern materials but no attempt at recreating the original artwork has been made. The damage to the building and its past as a ruin is clearly visible.

Modern alterations are bold yet simple and reflect the buildings grandeur.

Damage to Columns. This image shows how the damage to the building has been left exposed and not covered by new plaster or brickwork.

Restored Ceiling. Another example of the restoration approach used throughout the building.

The layering of old and new is what makes this building so interesting. If you knew nothing of the museums history you would still understand the spaces and be able to read its tumultuous past through the fabric of the building. The craftsmanship and the quality of the architectural detailing shines through and provides a stunning backdrop for the pieces on show as well as being artwork in their own right. Each room has been treated individually but yet they all come together to form a series of coherent spaces which are clearly legible. The modern additions are not over bearing or intrusive, although they are typical of Chipperfield's style they have been clearly considered and designed with the history of the building in mind.

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