Clients: Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Status: Competition (2007) Completed (2017)
Location: Berlin, Germany
Climate: Continental, Temperate
Environments: Riverside, Urban
Scale: 10.900 ㎡ Large
Types: Cultural, Museum, Refurbishment
As a continuation of Friedrich August Stüler’s forum architecture, the James Simon Galerie will serve as the new entrance building for Museum Island, completing the ensemble between the Kupfergraben arm of the Spree Canal and the long south-west façade of the Neues Museum. South-east of the Pergamon Museum and south-west of the Neues Museum, the project is sited on a narrow strip of land where Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Packhof administration building stood until 1938.
The new entrance building, together with the ‘Archaeological Promenade’, forms the backbone of the masterplan that was developed in 1999 and adopted as the basis for all further planning on Museum Island. The Archaeological Promenade will create a single point of access to all museums on the island (with the exception of the Alte Nationalgalerie) and provide ample space for the archaeological collection. Located primarily below ground, the promenade respects the individual natures of the historic buildings and, when fully operational, will fulfil Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s dream of investing the island with a single purpose: a unique ‘sanctuary for the arts and sciences’. Besides creating a new doorway to the island with considerable gravity and suitable for welcoming coachloads of visitors, the James Simon Gallery will house all of the facilities required by the contemporary museum-goer. Collecting these functions within this new structure alleviated the burden of accommodating public amenities inside the original spaces of the Neues Museum, avoiding otherwise inevitable compromises.
The entrance building is named after Henri James Simon (1851–1932) to commemorate his legacy to the city of Berlin. Simon was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and patron of the arts at the turn of the last century who, in 1911, financed Ludwig Borchardt’s excavations at Akhenaten’s city Amarna, and claimed many of the most important artefacts found there, notably the busts of Queens Nefertiti and Tiye. In his later years, Simon donated most of his significant collections to the Berlin State Museums, including the Nefertiti bust, the centrepiece in the rebuilt Neues Museum.
The entrance building addresses itself to the Lustgarten, the Schlossbrücke (the Palace Bridge), and the Kupfergraben. It will form a physical connection above ground with the Pergamon Museum and be linked with it, along with the Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum via the Archaeological Promenade at basement level. Two building volumes sit on top of a plinth level with the risalit base of the Pergamon, coinciding with its main exhibition floor. The second volume steps back into the site offering a deep view from the Schlossbrücke into the space between the entrance building and the Neues Museum.
The plinth itself reinforces the bank of the Kupfergraben with a masonry wall topped with columns of the giant order expressing a classical piano nobile. Large parts of this principal level will be accessible to the public outside opening hours, extending the public realm inside and outside Museum Island even further. Slender columns become a leitmotif, not only reminiscent of the famous sketch by Friedrich Wilhelm IV for his ‘cultural acropolis’ but also a continuation of Stüler’s Kolonnadenhof, which embraces and encloses the Neues Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie.
This architectural gesture creates a new colonnaded courtyard at the back of the Neues Museum while the strong vertical rhythm of the top pavilion finds an echo in the pilasters of the Pergamon Museum.
The public are invited to enter the building up three flights of generous steps set between the extended plinth and the lower colonnade. The entry to the new building faces the Lustgarten, completing what was originally intended to be the main façade of the island by creating a new street that serenely celebrates the arts and sciences, running parallel to the noisy grandeur of Unter den Linden. The visitor will arrive at the upper level and be received in a generous foyer, with direct level access to the main exhibition floor of the Pergamon Museum. The foyer also encloses the cafeteria and opens up to the grand terrace running the full length of the building. A mezzanine floor underneath the main arrival foyer will accommodate the museum shop, a large cloakroom, toilet facilities and lockers, while the temporary exhibition spaces and an auditorium are situated in the basement level, which connects via the Archaeological Promenade to the far end of the Neues Museum.
The architectural language of the new entrance building reinterprets in a modern way the language used by Schinkel, Stüler and the other architects involved with the creation of Museum Island, expressed as a built topography, with grand staircases and solid plinths, and crowned with urban colonnades. Constructed from reconstituted stone with natural stone aggregate and a marble front, the gallery will be a contemporary addition to the rich polychromatic palette of historic Berlin with its limestone, sandstone and rendered façades.