Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The history museum

The Neues Museum wasn’t open the last time we were in Berlin and hadn’t been open (except in the bombed-out sense) since World War II. The shell of the building – the museum was built in the mid-1880s – largely remained open to the elements until 1986 when some reconstruction work was undertaken. 

In 1997 an international competition was held to rebuild the museum and the job went to British David Chipperfield Architects teamed with conservation expert Julian Harrap. The resulting building opened last year is a spectacular interweaving of references between the old building and its reconstruction and ideas about what museums are about. Examining the rich textures of the exhibition halls you can see pock-marked scars of shrapnel and shell hits, traces of old educational murals and layers of shifting architectural styles and intentions. It is as much a meditation on the dramatic history of this museum as it is a meticulously considered design for the safe keeping and display of its collections. 

It is rare thing for museum architecture to be so spectacular and for that spectacle to enhance the collections it serves rather than diminish them.