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Neue Nationalgalerie refurbishment / David Chipperfield Architects Berlin

Neue Nationalgalerie refurbishment / David Chipperfield Architects Berlin

Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin. Refurbishment of an Architectural Icon

Excerpt from an essay by Martin Reichert, Partner and Managing director, David Chipperfield

Architects Berlin. Ed. by Arne Maibohm for the Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung.

The outstanding importance of the Neue Nationalgalerie, representing the climax and conclusion of late Modernity, and it’s almost undisturbed material and visual preservation, placed high demands on monument-preservation compatibility of the building measures. The perfection of the “temple of Modernity” affords hardly any leeway and is unforgiving.

ph: Simon Menges

The building measures focused on the general overhaul of the structure, including the removal of toxins and achieving contemporary technical and energy-related standards–in so far as this was compatible with the demands of the monument. The client’s defined goal, “As much Mies as possible,” as well as the building’s given limits and potential, left little room to maneuver. Firmly in the spirit of the task, our team at David Chipperfield Architects regarded ourselves as “invisible architects,” who planned and implemented the required adaptations and measures in the service of and with a responsibility toward the original designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, thereby refraining from incorporating our own personal preferences. 

ph: Simon Mengese

The general overhaul had the aim of giving the building a new lease of life of around 40 to 50 years, in its original and future function as an art museum and venue for special exhibitions. During that time, appropriate building maintenance should suffice to ensure the building’s operations, without making fundamental or structural changes necessary. Often, the desired sustainability of the general overhaul conflicted with efforts to retain as much of the original material structure as possible, while only using minimal measures.

The starting point for our planning considerations was the actually built structure, having aged and partially changed on its journey through the decades. The approach to the monument was subject to the familiar questions, criteria, and methods that are generally applied to high-ranking monuments elsewhere.

During archive research work lasting over a year, we gathered, viewed, systematized, indexed, and analyzed thousands of documents. The extremely large volume of diverse, preserved original sources painted a virtually complete picture of the planning and building history. In the following years, this guideline formed a solid basis for our planning decisions.

Mies’s design for the Neue Nationalgalerie and its structural implementation are defined by principles and typical characteristics. The underlying motif of the temple hall upon a podium is “timelessly Modern”, as are the exterior appearance’s high degree of abstraction, the modular design principle, refraining from an ostensible functionality for the exhibition hall, as well as the use of natural stone (granite and marble), brown oak, steel, bronze, and glass. By contrast, the aesthetic expression of the original period can be seen in the modular suspended ceilings in the basement, the illumination of the spaces using down lights and wall washers, the warm tone of the artificial light, the design of the sanitary rooms, the woodchip wallpaper together with the fitted carpet flooring in the collection rooms, the use of curtains, and the floor-flex tiles in the backof-house area. We regarded both aspects as equally important, while preserving and replacing them wherever they were missing.

While implementing the general overhaul, we deliberately refrained from visually “refreshing” the monument or reinterpreting it by “updating” colors, materials or details according to our contemporary tastes. We accepted the traces of use and ageing on the natural stone, on the original metal mounts in the interior and on all wooden building elements, repairing damage in accordance with standard restoration methods. Additions that would otherwise stand out were visually integrated through reserved retouching. Theoretically, the building equipment has an equal status with the rest of the monument. In view of today’s demands, there was no chance that we could pursue that aim everywhere. In a building’s high-performance use as a museum, its technology is an ephemeral, transient layer that would only have been preservable by turning the building into the museum of a museum and extensively using the technology. However, we did preserve elements of the technical equipment if its continued use was possible with or without technical adaptation (such as the supply-air grilles and lights) or when their preservation was feasible even though they no longer fulfilled their function (wall telephones, security-inspection key-switches, and others). The freight elevator and the curtain technology in the exhibition hall were materially preserved as technical heritage, retaining their original function. 

The depth of measures, combined with the removal of toxic substances, resulted in a considerable loss of original building fabric–albeit fortunately in a non-visible area. Following the general overhaul, the “skin”, i.e. the original surfaces, and the “bones”, i.e. the shell construction, are the most important carriers of material heritage. Large volumes of the “meat” were lost: screed, plaster, wire-plaster ceilings, porous concrete facing formwork, as well as heat and other insulation could only be retained as evidence in preservation zones.

ph: Simon Menges

Despite the necessary optimization and re-qualification to fulfill technical standards, to improve safety standards for people and objects, to enhance the convenience of use, or reduce running expenses, we did not remove all defects or imperfections (from today’s perspective) no matter the consequences–for instance at the cost of losing a substantial amount of the building fabric. In some cases, we merely alleviated the situation to a tolerable level, for example the condensation. Such aspects, which are typical for buildings from the construction period, form a significant element of the building’s character and are a genuine part of the historical evidence that we wished to preserve as far as possible.

DATE: 2012 (tender procedure-project start), 2016 (construction start), 2021 (completion-opening) / LOCATION: Berlin, Germany / AREA: 13,900 m2 (built) / PROGRAM:  / STATUS: built / CLIENT: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz represented by the Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung / PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Arne Maibohm / PROJECT CONTROLLING: KVL Bauconsult GmbH, Berlin / USER: Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / ARCHITECT: David Chipperfield Architects Berlin / PARTNERS: David Chipperfield, Martin Reichert, Alexander Schwarz / PROJECT ARCHITECTS: Daniel Wendler and Michael Freytag (Concept design to Technical design, Site design supervision) / TEAM: Concept design to Developed design: Marianne Akay, Thomas Benk, Matthias Fiegl, Anke Fritzsch, Dirk Gschwind, Anne Hengst, Franziska Michalsky, Maxi Reschke; Technical design: Sebastian Barrett, Alexander Bellmann, Martina Betzold, Anke Fritzsch, Dirk Gschwind, Lukas Graf, Martijn Jaspers, Christopher Jonas, Franziska Michalsky, Maxi Reschke, Christian Vornholt, Lukas Wichmann; Visualisation: Dalia Liksaite, Simon Wiesmaier; Fit-out: Yannic Calvez, Ute Zscharnt / In collaboration with EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT: BAL Bauplanungs und Steuerungs GmbH, Berlin (Procurement, construction supervision), Project management: Kerstin Rohrbach / CONSULTANTS: Pro Denkmal GmbH, Berlin (Restoration Consultant), Ingenieurgesellschaft W33 mbH with Domann Beratende Ingenieure GmbH, Berlin (Services Engineer), Müller-BBM GmbH, Berlin (Building Physics), Akustik-Ingenieurbüro Moll GmbH, Berlin (Acoustic), HHP West Beratende Ingenieure GmbH, Bielefeld (Fire), DS-Plan, Stuttgart (Façade), Arup Deutschland GmbH, Berlin (Lightning) / LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: TOPOS Stadtplanung Landschaftsplanung Stadtforschung, Berlin / PHOTOS: © Simon Menges

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