David Chipperfield Architects / Julian Harrap 2009
Antiquities of astonishing beauty and quality in the Neues Museum are greatly enhanced by the magnificent setting. Rescued from dereliction following Second World War bombing and the division of the city, the museum has been sensitively repaired and reconstructed by David Chipperfield Architects and Julian Harrap. However this is no facelift, erasing the vicissitudes of time, turning the clock back to some real or imagined earlier incarnation, it has been painstakingly repaired, leaving the scars of the 20th century exposed in a rich palimpsest of layered construction. Like the very best art and architecture, the physical reality of the building transcends any representation in photos.
New materials include white terrazzo and concrete, with marble aggregate, bronze, oak (which is generally dark stained), mushroom coloured leather and sand blasted glass. Carefully assembled pre-cast concrete elements are finished in a variety of textures, creating a subtle tactile range. The new work, somehow both raw and refined in its tectonic quality, perfectly complements the surviving construction, which is a mixture of fragmented decorative surfaces and exposed underlying construction. This is an expensive building: the insides of the cloakroom lockers are lined with luxurious dark stained oak and the doors wrapped in leather. However, it is rigour of conception, rather than opulence, that underlies Chipperfield’s approach: for example, displays on the upper galleries are formed in unlipped blockboard, with integral display windows and directly applied graphics. An unforced variety in the character and treatment of spaces and displays makes this the least stuffy of museums.
New elements of construction and even the display cases are engaging reinterpretations of the originals. Unlike the artifacts, which are presented in glorious isolation on plinths and in cases as the aesthetic pinnacle of past civilizations, the building is a sublime manifestation of the cyclical processes of human endeavour through time: creation, decay, destruction, repair, re-interpretation and renewal.