Neues Museum Restoration by David Chipperfield, Berlin (Germany), 2009

Neues Museum Restoration by David Chipperfield, Berlin (Germany), 2009

Historical Context

The Neues Museum (New Museum) is one of five museums in the Museum Island World Heritage site of Berlin, Germany. Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the “Romantic on the Prussian Throne”, envisioned Museum Island as an internationally renowned museum ensemble on Northern Spree Island. [1] The Neues Museum (1843-1885) was originally designed by Friedrich August Stüler. It is flanked by Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Altes Museum (1825-1830) to the south and Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann’s Pergamon Museum (1910-1930) to the north. The underlying concept behind Stüler’s design of Neues Museum was to evoke ancient worlds through theatrical interior design. The public face presented by the museum was not of primary importance - the façade merely “follows the form of the Altes Museum” in its neoclassical style. [2] The building was designed as two internal courtyards symmetrically arranged around a central stair hall. Entrance led into this hall – a space occupying full height and depth of the building.

For the first time in a Prussian monumental building, new industrial construction techniques were employed along with traditional solid and timber construction. [3] Industrial techniques were used for site preparation and prefabrication of iron elements. Structural role of these iron elements were expressed by separating them from masonry structures. However, the iron itself was hidden behind cast or embossed zinc or brass claddings.

Allied bombing in World War II (1943 and 1945) completely destroyed certain parts of the Neues Museum. Among these were the stair hall, northwest wing and domed southeast corner. [4] Other parts suffered partial or no damage. Apart from minor temporary repairs, the damaged building was neither refurbished nor rebuilt until a competition was held in 1993. The competition asked to plan the reconstruction of the Neues Museum and create complementary structures that would allow the museum to play a central role in a revitalized development of Museum Island. [5]


Architectural and Restoration Concept

The English architect, David Chipperfield was granted the commission to reconstruct the Neues Museum in 1998. [5] Chipperfield’s approach to design is minimalist – he mentions the “danger when every building has to look spectacular, to look like it is changing the world.” In his opinion, a building should have a special meaning to its users. [6] This search for meaning was central to his concept for the Neues Museum Restoration. The twofold activities of constructing missing sections along with repairing other parts were bound into a single approach – an approach that strove for continuity between the new and the old. This attempt for continuity upheld “protection of original fabric”. [7] This eliminated the need for faithful historical reconstruction. According to the architect, such reconstruction would not be authentic – “When we found it, it had an authenticity that was very powerful. People cannot help but be moved by this authenticity, in a world where so little is authentic. The question was how to preserve the physical strength that we had inherited.” [6] Julian Harrap was architect in charge of repair and restoration. He guided the process of making careful judgments with regard to specific situations. These informed decisions were made to eventually create a continuous whole that would expose changes over time.

Design Interventions

As it was important to link the Neues Museum to surrounding structures, the various basements below ground level were opened up to create a new subterranean path. This path was called the Archeological Promenade. [8] Chipperfield’s design defined the large central stair hall as the “heart” of the Neues Museum.[5] The staircase was designed with same arrangement but not detail of the original. Orientation, form, detailing and materials were considered to allow this space to assert its role as the public centre of the building. In contrast to this central hall, architectural expression was more subtle for spaces with exhibits. The Greek Courtyard, to the east of the museum, had been left intact over the years and a glass and steel roof was designed to illuminate it. A similar roof was designed for the greatly damaged Egyptian courtyard. This space was designed to accommodate a second-level central platform linked by a bridge.[4] Simultaneously, a portion of floor of the Egyptian courtyard was lowered to basement level. This allowed views down to sarcophagi arranged as exhibits at the Archeological Promenade level.

Restoration and Construction

The building had to be structurally strengthened in a number of ways. The masonry shell was stabilized by constructing the light weight steel roof structures over the Greek and Egyptian courtyards. Ground was frozen with nitrogen dioxide to stop the foundations from failing. New structural facades were built on the south-east and north-west sides. [8] Bricks were obtained from buildings throughout Europe for reconstruction of numerous walls. New bricks were fired to match these recycled bricks. These were used to create exposed surfaces, supported at certain points by poured-in-place concrete. Within the stair hall, reddish industrial brick and terracotta tiles were used to create a texture for upper walls. [4] The south-east dome was rebuilt in recycled brick using beehive corbelling. This space is illuminated by a skylight of sandblasted glass and metal. Such recreation of structure was inseparable from historical considerations. In the south-west wing, shallow, lightweight domes of clay pots designed by Stüler were recreated. The cast and wrought-iron bowstring trusses in the northern half were strengthened. Concrete, the previously alien material, was used in two grades – a polished, reflective, aggregate-rich variety for floors, walls and the main staircase; a sandblasted, honey-coloured type for columns, frames and ceiling panels. [8] Restoration aimed at enhancing only the strongest surviving element in each room and avoiding the “meaningless preservation of floating fragments of decoration.” [6] The design approach for individual rooms was analyzed using Photoshop drawings. Analysis looked into how much it was possible or desirable to preserve the damage from bombing. Painting, mouldings and other forms of interior decoration were restored in ways that would allow people to mentally recreate entire geometries. [9]


The Neues Museum was reopened in October 2009. Berlin’s pre-history, early-history and Egyptian collections were once again displayed where they were housed in the 19th Century. Among them was the 3,300 year old bust of Nefertiti. [6]


  1. ^ Haspel, Jӧrg (2009). The Neues Museum Berlin: Conserving, restoring, rebuilding within the World Heritage. Leipzig: E.A. Seemann Verlag of Seemann Henschel GmbH & Co. KG. 
  2. ^ Balfour, Alan (May 2009). "History". Architectural Review. 
  3. ^ Lorenz, Werner (2009). The Neues Museum Berlin: Conserving, restoring, rebuilding within the World Heritage. E.A. Seemann Verlag of Seemann Henschel GmbH & Co. KG. 
  4. ^ a b c Stephens, Suzanne (March 2010). "Renewal". Architectural Record. 
  5. ^ a b c Grosse-Rhode, Barbara (2009). The Neues Museum Berlin: Conserving, restoring, rebuilding within the World Heritage. E.A. Seemann Verlag of Seemann Henschel GmbH & Co. KG. 
  6. ^ a b c d Ketcham, Diana (January 2011). "Making a Minimalist Statement". ARTnews. 
  7. ^ Chipperfield, David (2009). The Neues Museum Berlin: Conserving, restoring, rebuilding within the World Heritage. E.A. Seemann Verlag of Seemann Henschel GmbH & Co. KG. 
  8. ^ a b c Pearman, Hugh (July 2008). "From Prussia with Love". RIBA Journal. 
  9. ^ Harrap, Julian (2009). The Neues Museum Berlin: Conserving, restoring, rebuilding within the World Heritage. E.A. Seemann Verlag of Seemann Henschel GmbH & Co. KG. 

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