Construction of Chipperfield in Berlin: the James Simon Gallery is finally open – culture

Now the island at the museum is fully developed. This Friday, the last link will be the James Simon Gallery. Angela Merkel will deliver a speech to the list of speakers. The fact that this time the Chancellor, and not her Minister of State, speaks, underlines the importance attached to the political process in Berlin. The elders remember the first appearance of a Federal Chancellor on Museum Island: it was in 1999, when Gerhard Schröder announced to the happy surprise of those present the full support of the costs of construction and renovation of the island by the federal government.

Twenty years and hundreds of millions of euros later, the first and only new building will be inaugurated: since the opening of the Pergamon Museum in 1930, it is installed on the island of museums. In addition to the new construction underway, all construction costs since the end of the war have been spent on the renovation of existing buildings, in the case of the Neues Museum, which was erected as a ruin three quarters of the Second World War to a complete reconstruction. The latter was realized by the London architect David Chipperfield, become almost Berlin and world famous.


Chipperfield embodies after Schinkel (Altes Museum) with his pupils August Stüler (New Museum) and Heinrich Strack (Old National Gallery), after Ernst von Ihne (Bode Musuem) and after Adolf Messel / Ludwig Hoffmann (Museum of Pergamon) Museum Island. With the Simon Gallery, it connects the oldest and the youngest of the predecessors, between the columns of Schinkel and the pedestal of the Pergamon Museum.

The function does not follow the form here

This can be seen and understood at the approach of Lustgarten or Kupfergraben. If you look at the dense row of pillars that rise white-snow from the base, just as white, and behind them the gray colossus of the Pergamon Museum.

We understand immediately why Chipperfield so forcefully rejects the slogan of the so-called all modernity: form follows function. Because the function of the James Simon Gallery is not followed by its shape. It follows, if any, from the need to be an optical link of this heterogeneous island-museum and to intervene between the solitaries, to which it will serve in the future as a central entrance building. The functions hosted in the building itself do not impose a specific form; they came together in an additive way – "a wish list", as Chipperfield notes – depending on what is missing on the Museum Island and have now had to be taken care of.

On the terrace In the future, a coffee shop will be open until the evening.Photo: Ute Zscharnt

The building calls a gallery and that is the case, but not primarily. Yes, there is a temporary exhibition room of 650 square meters, located in the light of day on the pedestal. The real purpose of the building is to serve as the main entrance to the island. Therefore, a large entrance above, a smaller one on the ground floor, a cloakroom, the inevitable store; classroom and exhibition space.

An almost convincing end point of the Museum Island

And a coffee shop at the height of the terrace and the loggia, directly accessible from the wide external staircase, which will remain engraved in memories as a motif next to the pillar wall. This grand staircase does not follow a majestic museum construction – it is rather chosen as a motif, as a place of ascent and descent and perhaps also for the Sitzsitzends. The coffee will be operated regardless of the opening hours of the museums and will hopefully be the desired place where life still reigns when museums are closed.

The entrance to the Museum Island – James Simon Gallery
1 of 18Photo: Thilo Rückeis12.01.2018 09:40View of the James Simon Gallery, the new entrance building of the Berlin Museum Island Berlin-Mitte.

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Chipperfield composed a building from this list of facilities. The fact that it does not appear as a simple additive, like the enumeration of the functions that it contains, constitutes the genius of its design. It constitutes a unit, an almost imperative end point of the Museum Island in this difficult place. Because only a narrow towel was available on the property, and therefore a building of only 10,900 square meters of gross area, of which 4600 square meters. Most of the building, it seems, consists of stairs, corridors, corridors – a house in which to hang out.

But you can go from the loggia by a simple but solemn door to the nearby museum of Pergamum. At the New Museum, turn right on the ground floor, where a monumentally exposed tree trunk, a foundation pile drawn from the ground, draws attention to the nature of the water-rich terrain – and the archaeological collection areas of the New Museum.

The "Archeological Walk" is still a dream of the future

With the other museums, the connection is late for years, because the "Archaeological Walk", which must take its exit here, is a dream for the future. The governors of the Bundestag, who have to give up on Chancellor Schröder's promise to turn them into specific allowances, want a construction job to be completed before approving the next one.

How good they are, just showed the James Simon Gallery, whose costs have almost doubled by spoiling the construction of the surprising promise made in 2006 from 71 to 134 million euros. This resulted in years of delay – compared to the initially announced opening for 2012, a huge seven-year period. This probably explains why the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, as a customer, organized a whole series of events, from the laying of the foundation stone at the closing ceremony, to the "handover of the keys" at the next opening, complemented by a number of temporary visits to the expert public. They were eager to show that things are moving forward.

Such a happy result was not predetermined since the beginning of the project. Chipperfield could sing a song. His first project, which he carried out in parallel with the commissioning of the reconstruction of the new museum, was delivered to the managers. There was a lot of glass and steel, there were blocks one next to each other. But nobody really knew what should happen here and for what purpose. It happened like this.

David ChipperfieldPhoto: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

Chipperfield has achieved a real turnaround, as he had discovered in the 90s to his own style, that of a classic and timeless modernity. At the Museum of Modern Art Literature Marbach am Neckar in 2006, he tested the flat roof supported by pillars, the outermost abbreviation of a temple. He had seen the gigantic pedestal of Kupfergrabens – broken by two windows later – when participating in the contest, Giorgio Grassis, from 1994. Grassi is forgotten today, but the Italian rationalist had the chance to see him. The idea was formulated by Chipperfield's second project in 2007. At the same time, the design was almost complete, as it now stands.

The length of this procedure, which is usually complicated in Berlin, has already proved successful for Museum Island for the second time after the new museum. Both times, Chipperfield is the architect. He has shown an angel patience with all the worries that have come, talked and left over the years. But the architect has learned a lot, as can be seen in other buildings, such as the conversion of the Royal Academy in London. That's probably how Schinkel had to fight with his king. Except that Chipperfield saw no king, but a large number of people willing to talk together. The authority that Chipperfield radiates today, at the zenith of his creation, he has actually acquired.

With James Simon, the foundation was difficult

The second characteristic of its architecture, besides the sovereign creation of space, is the choice and processing of materials. Chipperfield appreciates the most thorough execution. It is only then that its minimalism escapes forms of danger to be uncompleted or even cheap. The thin pillars are impeccable, even though they are concrete – with an extra marble dust. The floor is covered with limestone, the door frames are in architectural bronze and the auditorium features a sleek wavy dark wood ceiling. The hard felt benches, however, seem to preserve Cromwell's Puritan heritage in England.

[James-Simon-Galerie, Bodestr. (Mitte), tgl. 9:30–18:30 Uhr, Do bis 20:30 Uhr. Dort sind alle Tickets, Museumspass, Welcome Card usw. erhältlich. Gastronomie tgl. 9:30–23 Uhr geöffnet. – Publikation: David Chipperfield Architects: James-Simon-Galerie. Zahlr. Beiträge, Fotografien von Thomas Struth. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln. 246 S. m. 160 Abb., 38 €.]

Rest the exhibition hall. In this document, a four-week exhibition will be presented to James Simon, Berlin's greatest patron of museums. The invitation of SPK at the opening was accompanied by a pamphlet on Simon – whose total circulation of 5,000 copies however did not fund the foundation, but only a patron of our time, Waldtraut Braun, like the indefatigable defender of merit Simon, Bernd Schultz duly announced.

With James Simon, the foundation has struggled – why? In the gallery that bears his name, there is a bronze tribute to the entrance wall, which was certainly not planned from the beginning. The inaugural exhibition is a compromise because at the beginning, the museums wanted to organize a jubilee exhibition of the Gipsformerei. It will be done later.

Now the public is taking possession of the new building – their new building, funded by taxpayers' money. Feeling liberated with the ascent on the grand staircase and covering the entire "shrine of art and science" is given to all citizens from the weekend. A stroke of luck.