Tumblr is where tens of millions of creative people around the world share and follow the things they love.Sign up to find more cool stuff to follow
Neues / Altes / Chipperfield / Schinkel
The Altes Museum and Neues Museum of Berlin represent an important fase in art history. The Altes Museum was one of the first buildings of it’s kind, built between 1825 and 1830 with the explicit intend to be a museum. It was later complemented by the Neues Museum, only a few meters away. The Neues and Altes are part of a group of museums that were all built on the Museuminsel. The instigator of the establishment of the Altes Museum, king Friedrich Wilhelm III, was also responsible for this development. Because of their important position within the establishment of art history as a discipline, the Neues and Altes Museum are both interesting as an institution and as a museum worth visiting for it’s impressive collection.
Both of the buildings have suffered quite some damage during the Second World War. During the Cold War and the division of Berlin, the Museuminsel was part of the territory that belonged to the socialist Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Despite some other historical landmarks, such as the Schloss Berlin, being demolished in this period, the museums did last. The Altes was renovated in 1966, the Neues was, as it was heavily damaged, used as a storage facility for the other museums on the Insel. The most important renovation of the Neues has taken place in 2009 and was conducted under the direction of David Chipperfield.
As a result of its extensive renovation, the Neues Museum now offers a beautiful pallet of different layers of history. That’s why in this blogpost, I would like to focus on the Neues Museum, starting with looking further into the history of this building and its features to then be able to look at these features in their ‘new’ appearance.
The Neues was built to house the collections that weren’t able to find a place in the Altes. As the Altes was meant explicitly as a museum for art therefore the archeological collections, such as the Egyptian and the prehistoric collection were not housed there. These collections were housed for a short while at the Monbijou palace only to then be moved to the newly built Neues Museum. The Monbijou palace is no longer to be found in Berlin, as it was demolished by the DDR government after suffering from heavy war damage in the Second World War - I’m inclined to write some posts in the future about the ‘invisible buildings’ of Berlin, buildings that are no longer visible, but still form a part of the city’s explicit heritage, the Monbijou palace would be a likely candidate.
Following the powerful classicist visual language of the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum was designed with many classicist aspects. The floorplan is shaped as a slightly crooked rectangle, with two inner courts. The facades show temple frontons and pilasters. Continuing inwards, more classicists features are to be found.
Just as with other early museumbuildings, the interior of the Neues was richly decorated. Lush paintings of Egyptian monuments and other thematical decorations - such as the ceiling painting of the Zodiac of the Hathor temple in Denderra, see picture above - were ment to cradle the collection and to offer the visitor a thorough experience of history. It is here that a restoration architect has to tread carefully, because this decoration is what has departed the most from the current take on museum design. These decorations form a part of the heritage that the Museuminsel has become, but are a far cry from the ‘white cube’ ideal that can be found in many museums. The approach that Chipperfield has taken in handeling these decorations within his design seems very correct to me. Not only is this approach visually very appealing, it is also capable of integrating the diverse historical layers within a new, fresh and functional museum.
The decorations that were still present in the ruinous building have largely been conserved, but the interiorplan has not been restored to it’s original state. Instead, historical remains, ‘scars’ and modern aspects coexist throughout the building. It has to be mentioned that some of the walls have been cleaned quite rigorously, which has damaged the brickwork somewhat. It’s fascinating that on no point the building contrasts with the collection. In fact, the historical layers with their somewhat ‘rough’ aesthetic actually complement the collection, which has it’s own set of mutilations, but as with any object that has become a part of heritage, that is only natural.