Neue Nationalgalerie Museum

Published · Online

Feature · Neue Nationalgalerie Museum
Words · Nicola Barrett


After years of refurbishment the Neue Nationalgalerie museum in Berlin has shed its cloak of scaffolding and has emerged into public view. At first glance it seems not much has changed, which is exactly the intention of David Chipperfield Architects who were commissioned to take charge of the first major renovation of the building since it was built in 1968. The practice has a diverse international body of work and has ‘won more than 100 international awards and citations for design excellence.’ The team at David Chipperfield Architects in charge of this project describe themselves as ‘invisible architects, striving to keep ‘as much of Mies as possible.’ 


They are referring to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the last directors of Germany’s famous avant-garde design school, the Bauhaus, and the architect who designed the Neue Nationalgalerie. Mies sought to establish his own style of architecture to represent modern times and the advancement of technology in the early twentieth century and embraced the aphorism ‘less is more’. The Neue Nationalgalerie is the only European building Mies designed after leaving his native Germany and emigrating to America before the Second World War. 

Historical photograph by Reinhard Friedrich

Historical photograph by Reinhard Friedrich

Speaking on his practices’ refurbishment of the museum, the firms founder David Chipperfield stated, “Taking apart a building of such unquestionable authority has been a strange experience but a privilege.” He went on to describe the refurbishment as “surgical in nature” as they addressed technical issues whilst protecting Mies’s vision. 



David Chipperfield Architects practice is characterised by  ‘meticulous attention to the concept and details of project’ and their ‘relentless focus in refining design ideas’ and this was evident in their aim to produce, not a new interpretation of the Neue Nationalgalerie, but a respectful repair. They accepted signs of ageing in the fabric of the building as long as it didn’t not impair visual appearance or usability.

 Mies often described his work as ‘skin and bones architecture’ and this Miesian principle is something Martin Reichert, Partner and Managing director of David Chipperfield Architects Berlin, uses to describe the renovation process. Calling the original surfaces the skin, and the shell construction the bones, he stated that these were kept, as they were ‘the most important characters of material heritage’. However, much of the ‘meat’ of the building, such as plaster, wire ceilings and porous concrete, was lost, aside from a small amount that was retained as evidence in preservation zones. 



Issues such as condensation were addressed by bringing the building closer to Mies original design. The original underfloor heating, which had been taken out of service at an early stage due to steel pipes becoming corroded and leaking, was restored making ‘an essential contribution to stabilising the indoor climate.’ In the case of unavoidable interventions, such as adding previously non existent disabled access, the changes are described as only ‘discreetly legible’. 


 The museum is expected to reopen to the public in August 2021 and more information on the restoration and opening details can be found on the Neue Nationalgalerie website .





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