Culture

Alexander Schwarz

As the James-Simon-Galerie opens in Berlin, completing two decades of work on Museum Island for David Chipperfield Architects, Magali Robathan speaks to the lead designer


The David Chipperfield-designed James-Simon-Galerie – the first new building on Berlin’s Museum Island in almost a century – has opened in the German capital, with the official launch attended by the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

It’s an elegant structure that solves several problems, serving as a gateway for all of the museums on Museum Island, housing visitor facilities, temporary exhibition space and an auditorium.

Acting as a gateway to the island, the James-Simon-Galerie connects the museums while relieving the strain on them by assuming the central service functions for the whole complex. It has also been designed to act as a cultural destination in its own right; it will host cultural programmes and will stay open in the evening after the museums have closed.

“This is a really important project for us,” Chipperfield told me when I interviewed him in Berlin in 2017. “It deals with a lot of problems that the museums have in terms of circulation and also in terms of programming, because it adds an auditorium, and temporary exhibition space. Also, I think it will enhance the urban conditions, when you go into the building or even if you just walk past it.

“Architecture has a responsibility to the passing person, not just to the people that visit or work in the buildings we create. Primarily we have a responsibility to the person that pays our bill, but we do not lose sight of the fact that we also have a responsibility to everybody else.”

The building features slender white columns that take cues from the surrounding museums, and wide staircases that invite the visitor in. Once inside, a wall of white marble creates a sense of serenity in the large foyer, which houses a café and opens out onto a terrace that runs the full length of the building.

The James-Simon-Galerie is connected to the Pergamon Museum at ground floor level – when complete, it will link the museum at basement level via a series of tunnels, named the Archaeological Promenade, with the Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum.

Smooth concrete dominates in the temporary exhibition spaces and auditorium in the basement; a mezzanine floor beneath the foyer houses a shop and cloakroom and toilet facilities.

DCA partner Alexander Schwarz was the design director responsible for the James-Simon-Galerie. Here he answers our questions about the project

What does this project mean to David Chipperfield Architects? How would you sum up the experience of working on it?
Completing this project means the end of our work on Museum Island after 20 years, which started with the rebuilding of Neues Museum. Not only does the James-Simon-Galerie complete the architectural ensemble on Museum Island, but also our engagement there. The Island with its cultural background has been a core experience for the Berlin office.

What were your aims with this project?
During the design process, we learned that the building could not only be about its functions, but about completing Museum Island as a public place. Our aim was to create a place, celebrating public space and accessibility. Rather than creating a sixth building and a new façade on Museum Island, we were focused on the urban responsibility of the building. There is a strong spatial interaction between outside and inside.

It’s not about image, it’s about the experience. We will see whether we have achieved this aim once the building is in use, but it is interesting to see how the building already acts in urbanistic terms, beyond its image.

How will the James-Simon-Galerie change visitors’ experience of Museum Island?
The James-Simon-Galerie accomplishes two things: it makes Museum Island visible towards the city and it allows connectivity within Museum Island. Up until now, the buildings on Museum Island were not connected and only accessible from the outside. With its several entrances and access possibilities with four entrances on three levels, the James-Simon-Galerie allows an internal permeability between the existing historic monuments.

In addition to that, it provides an address for Museum Island facing towards the city and the nearby boulevard Unter den Linden, one of Berlin’s main historic routes.

Why did you choose concrete as the primary material for the interior spaces?
The architecture of the James-Simon-Galerie does not differentiate between inside and outside. Both the exterior and the interior architecture is primary. All visible elements are part of the actual, load-bearing structure. There is no cladding or further secondary layer forming spaces and volumes. The architectural statement is very much connected to the materiality of the building. Concrete is, if you will, a very romantic material, because it expresses its on-site production process like no other material. It is the opposite of building with products.

The physicality that concrete radiates, which is beyond form, comes from the experience of how it was built on site. This makes it a very strong and very primary material.

Do you have a personal favourite part of this building?
My favourite part is the sequence of the outside spaces: the new colonnaded courtyard between Neues Museum and the James-Simon-Galerie, the open grand staircase and finally the terrace with the high colonnade. It forms a new space in Berlin’s historic centre where you can experience the city in a new way, a space that adds to the urban experience of Berlin.

Creating this, I think, is something we can be proud of. We will see how popular these places will become.

What’s been the biggest challenge of this project?
The project has had many challenges, from the slenderness of the columns to the 9m-high glass supports of the façade; but particularly difficult was the foundation, which we had to build under water.

Problems with the foundation led to a complex and very long construction process. However, the building today doesn’t tell of these difficulties, or the high-tech solutions used. It’s fascinating to see the degree of perfection to which the James-Simon-Galerie has been built, without mirroring any of the difficulties of the preceding construction process. The spatial experience is one of levity and joy; the building radiates happiness.

What’s been the highlight and the lowlight?
The lowlight was the necessary deconstruction of a flawed foundation, which meant two years of digging under water involving divers. Working below the waterline, this was literally a low point.

My highlight was the moment the structure of the building was set up and the spaces could be experienced, the moment when I realized how active the building is in urbanistic terms.

THE LOWDOWN
The James-Simon-Galerie

Project start: 1999/2007

Gross floor area: 10,900sq m

Architect: David Chipperfield Architects Berlin

Quantity surveyor: Christine Kappei, Stuttgart

Structural engineer: IGB Ingenieurgruppe Bauen, Berlin

Lighting design: Conceptlicht GmbH, Traunreut (Outdoor lighting)

Exhibition planning: Duncan McCauley GmbH und Co. KG, Berlin (Permanent exhibition)

Landscape architect: Levin Monsigny Landschaftsarchitekten, Berlin

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
featured supplier
Featured Supplier: CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo Americas in Miami, Florida, the region’s only event dedicated to cruise ship interior design.
company profile
Company profile: TLEE Spas + Wellness
Having designed and managed some of the most renowned spas in the world, Tracy has carved out a reputation of steady leadership and innovation recognised throughout the industry.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The hotel and spa are housed in historic buildings but feature contemporary design
Matteo Thun
"To transform a state-protected island into a luxury resort and park meant looking for new solutions while respecting nature and history"

The Isola delle Rose has a rich history and an enviable location. Matteo Thun knew he had to capitalise on both with the design of the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

The towers’ punched window openings reference the area’s historic industrial buildings
Thomas Christoffersen
"We were rooted in the traditions of Danish design, but inspired by what was happening elsewhere."

On the journey from being Bjarke Ingels' first intern to BIG partner

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
A new stairway forms the focal point of the Neues Museum’s central hall
"It’s not controversy, it’s dialogue. It’s very healthy"

The UK should take a leaf out of Germany’s book when it comes to designing and planning cities, argues the Neues Museum architect

Designs for the Museo Nacional del Peru by Luis Longhi
Schreibeis Smith set up Vera Iconica Architecture in 2010
"Wellness is essentially an insurance policy to promote physical and mental long term health"

Raising the profile of wellness architecture

It took three months to install the capsules on to the mountainside. They offer amazing views
Mountain climbing guide Ario Ferri created the capsules
"Installing the sleeping capsules took ropes, pulleys, cables...and lots of guts"

Installing sleeping capsules on the side of a Peruvian cliff

features
According to Ole Scheeren, the best buildings are the ones that tell us stories
"Economic value can be achieved by a sense of generosity towards the public domain"

The architect behind Beijing’s CCTV Headquarters and the Taipei Performing Arts Center talks form, fiction and fantasy with Kim Megson

Partners clockwise from bottom right: Alexandra Champalimaud, Ed Bakos, Winston Kong, John Kastl
Bakos joined Champalimaud in December 2012. He previously worked for the Rockwell Group
"Construction is one of the largest generators of landfill waste, so it is important to create spaces that transcend trends"

It’s time for a new approach to sustainability, argues Champalimaud’s managing director

cladkit product news
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
cladkit product news
Jaffe Holden helps bring Academy Museum of Motion Pictures alive
Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics for the Academy Museum
Magali Robathan
Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics and audio/video design services for the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion ...
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
cladkit product news
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...