It was as if my senses had been awakened for the first time. The minute I walked in, I knew I was onto something big. Something that would change me forever and leave me wanting more…
The Neues Museum (translates as “New Museum”), located on Museum Island in the centre of Berlin, was originally constructed in the mid 19th century. It suffered a tremendous amount of damage during the attack on Berlin during World War II and was left in ruins for many years. Recently restored by David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap, the museum re-opened its doors to the public in 2009.
It is of no surprise that this amazing architectural feat won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe prize for contemporary architecture in 2011.
As we entered the Neues Museum, my jaw dropped, and I’m certain it remained so for the duration of my visit. While most seemed curious at best, bee-lining it to their favorite exhibit, I stood still, totally in awe of my surrounding sights. The contents of the exhibits, while of great value, were the furthest thing from my mind. I could hardly keep myself from touching every pillar, feeling up the various materials and rubbing myself all over the walls: Ultimate salon porn.
So what was it that ignited me so, as we passed from one sensuous hall to the other?
Was it the lighting? The textures and materials used? The contrasting and balancing elements? I would never dare attempt to pinpoint a single component as driving the show of this stunning neoclassical restoration.
It was the experience in its totality that had me at “hello”.
The perfection with which every one of these elements has been superimposed, bringing together past and future, classic and contemporary, concrete and abstract, all while maintaining its integrity is both an impressive tribute to its original construct and an exemplary representation of innovative, contemporary architecture.
The architects’ aim, when restoring the Neues Museum, was to preserve the essence of the ruin from which it was reborn. This was done immaculately.
Having spent some time in Berlin previous to our museum visit, I truly felt as though this restoration embodied the essence of what I understood was at the core of this urban wonder: Berlin’s tumultuous past and desire for renewal and forward motion, the dichotomy of the graffiti-styled grit blended with immense regulated edifices and the anarchy of colliding all of these conflicting elements within such a disciplined methodology.
The concrete and plaster-stained walls, the raw transitions from one material into another in several locations around the museum (both illustrated above-left), depict the magnificence with which this intentionally unfinished, yet highly-refined construct, was created. There was no attempt to hide the ruin behind a shiny new fabrication… it is all there, in your face, ready to tell the story, yet ripe to move on.
Oscar Wilde once wrote: “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Within the Neues Museum, the architects and designers eloquently granted space and allowed the focus to fall onto the primary exhibits, all while enhancing and directing the experience with this astonishingly well thought-out and polished historical structure as its “container”.
Without going as far as “concealing” the framework, in this case, the Neues Museum is fashioned in a way that allows both entities to coexist without the clashing that can occasionally occur with such bi-polar or time-“transitional” architecture. This seamless coexistence, I feel, is at the core of good design.
As I caught my breath, allowing the whole of my experience to settle, I knew this was a moment in time I would always remember.
Art has a way of touching people’s souls like nothing else. When you make a connection with a creation, it embodies everything you have ever wanted to understand, see, appreciate and look forward to. You feel expanded with possibilities, exhilarated with new ideas.
I will return to this muse of a place… perhaps not in the immediate future, but in time, I simply have to.