Opening on Berlin's Museum Island: a gallery for the almost forgotten patron James Simon

The James Simon Gallery on the Island of Museums (source: dpa / Soeren Stache)

dpa / soeren stache

Audio: Inforadio | 12.07.2019 | Maria Ossowski | picture: dpa / soeren stache

Opening of the James Simon Gallery

A gallery for the patron almost forgotten

The island's World Heritage Museum now attracts with an impressive entrance complex. The construction of David Chipperfield is named after patron James Simon. For the featured architect, the project was anything but conventional. By Maria Ossowski

The architecture is light and airy, a wide staircase and elegant white colonnades welcome visitors. The entrance building of the Museum Island bears the name of Jewish cotton wholesaler and patron James Simon (1851-1932). Berlin owes him Nefertiti, the Ishtartor, the processional road of Babylon and 600 paintings of the Renaissance.

"He gave so much to the city"

In the bright room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Spree, his nephew Timothy, an old man, admires the entrance to the World Heritage Site. "He gave so much to the city of Berlin, he never expected anything in return, and now, 90 years after his death, this city opens this magnificent building," said the descendant. "We will remember what he did in the future because James Simon is long forgotten."

"No conventional project"

He and his team worked their feet in the mud and their eyes in the sky, explains David Chipperfield, architect of the James Simon Gallery. 1,200 concrete piles had to be lowered to 40 meters in the marshy soil of Spreeinsel. Not only does the building serve as an entrance to the Pergamon Museum, the Old and New Museums and the Bode Museum, the James Simon Gallery also houses rooms for temporary exhibitions and a room for podium discussions or smaller concerts.

"The project was not at all conventional – no ordinary building, no library, no museum, master plan and discussions with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation have created a sort of shopping list with challenges, problems and themes, "says architect David Chipperfield. Some things were specific: you need an auditorium, a temporary exhibition hall. But other things were pretty vague, Chipperfield said. "For example: we should invite masses of visitors to guide us."

4600 square meters of usable space with stairs, museum shops, cafes and promenades were built over the seven years of construction. The cost had doubled to 134 million euros. Taxpayers have financed the building, but the general director of the Prussian cultural heritage museums, Michael Eissenhauer, will not fail to welcome him enthusiastically.

"From the point of view of future users of these buildings, it is a giant step in the future because this building gives us a central address for the Museum Island" said Eissenhauer. According to him, the 1999 master plan had the central principle that buildings should be presented as "solitary for themselves". But it also becomes clear that it takes a heart so that "the island at the museum can be developed as a whole".

A new highlight on Berlin's Museum Island


Contribution by Maria Ossowski


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