The building assignment, calling for a new element between “icons of 20th century architectural history,“ Mies Van Der Rohe’s Neuer National Gallery and Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonics among other listed buildings of high cultural and architectural significance, requires both a sensitive and strong architectural as well as urban intervention. To us, composition, clarity and austerity all coalesce to form an appropriate response, situated at the nexus of the urban fabric at Berlin’s Cultural Forum.
Seizing upon the prevailing architectural typology of the significant cultural buildings along Potsdamer Street provides the framework within which the design for the Museum of the 20th Century rests. The surrounding plinth buildings, with unique, pavilion-like superstructures resting on top, constitute the specific genius loci in this core area that form Berlin’s Cultural Forum. Hans Scharoun’s concept of ‘urban landscape’ emerges from this typology. It is evident not only throughout exterior spaces but also manifests in the interior spaces of the complex, reinforced through the publicly-accessible plinths. We see this initial post-war vision as an outstanding urban quality to be preserved and strengthened. The design is therefore canonical and continues these very particular urban as well as programmatic conditions in a genuinely respectful way.
The house for the Museum of the 20th Century develops a clear stance. It restraints itself while preserving its architectural independence. A shed roof of prefabricated concrete trusses hovers above a glazed circumference that affords the public visual access to selected exhibition areas that develop along cascading gallery floors underground. The tower is placed in the northwestern part of this pedestal base and is composed of high-grade, stainless steel metal cladding and mirrored glass, resulting in a monolithic appearance. The tower houses the Museum Education, Building Operation Services, and Scientific Administration as well as a viewing platform that will be part of the Cultural Forum Visitors Center.
The design recognizes its role as part of a larger urban ensemble, linking itself among and within the different surrounding urban spaces. The sight lines from the base of Mies Van der Rohe’s New National Gallery towards Scharoun’s Philharmonic “Sound Box” and the Chamber Music Hall Superstructure remain, as well as the visual connection from Potsdamer Street to St. Matthews Church. Concurrently, the new museum’s superstructure on top of the plinth frames and guides some of these varying visual relationships while establishing the proposed building’s landmark relationship to nearby Potsdamer Platz. Given the building’s well-balanced disposition within its context, the plinth level connects the urban plazas reflected in the master-plan by Valentien+Valentien landscape architects.
The new base level reacts to these diverse areas through multiple entrances that are connected with each other through interior avenues. The two main entrances open the building towards Potsdamer Street, vis-à-vis the entry to the state library by Hans Scharoun, and St. Matthews Church Plaza towards the group of museums located at the Piazetta. These two passageways traverse through an open foyer. In this way, the northern part of the ground/plinth level is open to all sides and brings Scharoun’s idea of the urban landscape deep into the heart of the new building. The outdoor connection to Mies’ New National Gallery is situated along Potsdamer Street. Distinct temporary transformations and interactions within and among the surrounding public spaces become tangible.
A nod to a Miesian “abstract urban landscape,” the building also establishes its relationship towards the polygonal exterior spaces created by the Scharoun building. Together with Mies’ New National Gallery, the new Museum for the 20th Century builds a unified museum complex evident through its typology and urban alignment.
The design provides a series of differentiated spaces that speak directly to the museum’s collections. The museum itself is accessed through the open foyer space that crosses the building from east to west. Upon entering through the bridge-like platform that crosses the double-height perimeter of the building, the visitor gains glimpses into the museum areas situated below.
Beneath the public functions of the plinth, the exhibition areas evolve downwards in cascade-like fashion. The bored piles surrounding the perimeter wall are kept in their raw state, evoking a dichotomy in relation to the more pristine white museum spaces. Indirect daylight moves through the building from the open upper levels to the gallery spaces below. The shed roof is composed of prefabricated concrete trusses while pre-stressed hollow box girders,aligned to the same structural grid, support the lower stories. The trusses and girders allow for the necessary large and column-free spans between bearing walls, ensuring maximum flexibility and curatorial configuration possibilities.
The below-ground placement of the museum and the thermal mass of the concrete structure allows for controlled climatic conditions. Natural light, filtered through the building’s glazed circumference, reaches down through the circulation areas between and around the galleries. The building’s contemporary design is bound to 20th century modernism, stylistically and culturally characterized through abstraction, objectivity, and conceptualization.