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


Read on turning pages | Download PDF | sign up to CLAD

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
company profile
Company profile: Fabio Alemanno Design Ltd
Based on ancient knowledge – and confirmed by scientific research – warmth is one of the most important sources of healing and preventative therapy available.
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
Alcide Leali Jnr
"Wellness embraces the entire holiday experience"

The design of the newly-opened Lefay Resort and Spa Dolomitti in Italy aims to celebrate and protect its spectacular surroundings

SHL’s Monroe Blocks mixed development in Detroit, US
"Most clients are very focused on how buildings are used and experienced as the primary design driver"

The MD of Schmidt Hammer Lassen and the CEO of PerkinsWill tell us why their merger will help create smarter buildings driven by human behaviour

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
Manuelle Gautrand
"The cities where you have good cultural buildings and facilities – it’s a way for people to mix, to share the city in a much deeper way"

The French architect and winner of the 2017 European Prize for Architecture tells us why she is determined to surprise

Francis graduated as a landscape architect in Belgium. He returned to Lebanon in 1993
"I believe gardens are where the soul rests"

With a focus on desert landscapes and collaborations with Zaha Hadid and OMA, the principal of Francis Landscapes has a deep belief in the power of nature

cladkit product news
BIG partners with Louis Poulsen for new lighting collection
The Keglen collection is made up of four different pendants
Lauren Heath-Jones
BIG Ideas, the technology arm of renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), has partnered with Danish lighting manufacturer Louis ...
Tom Dixon collaborates with Prolicht to launch CODE lighting range
The product has three LED light sources: Dot, Dash and Grid
Megan Whitby
British designer, Tom Dixon, and Austrian architectural lighting specialists, Prolicht, have collaborated to unveil a new lighting range. Called CODE, ...
Daniel Svahn creates furniture collection using repurposed table tops
The Goodies But Oldies collection features three pieces made from repurposed MDF table tops
Lauren Heath-Jones
Daniel Svahn, a Stockholm-based furniture designer, has created a new range of sustainable furnishings, made from recycled MDF tabletops. Svahn, ...
cladkit product news
1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium celebrates Southampton FC's history
Rainbow Design worked closely with KSS Architects to ensure the furniture matched the design vision
Lauren Heath-Jones
KSS Architects has partnered with Rainbow Design, a London-based furniture supplier, to create the 1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium, ...
Naval architect launches solar-powered floating pods
The Anthénea pod is a luxury floating suite that could be used as a spa or treatment suite
Lauren Heath-Jones
Naval architect Jean-Michel Ducancelle has designed a solar-powered floating hotel suite aimed at offering an eco-friendly and nomadic place for ...
Barr + Wray to launch space saving hammam concept
Light shines through a striking central chandelier to create a feeling of movement
Katie Barnes
Smaller footprint. Maximum theatre. Those are the two main features of a new hammam concept being developed by wet spa ...
cladkit product news
Canteen collection combines nostalgia with modern aesthetics
The Canteen collection was inspired by post-war British design techniques
Lauren Heath-Jones
Very Good & Proper (VG&P), a British furniture brand, has curated a new dining collection that combines traditional woodworking techniques ...
XTU concept imagines life in the clouds
XTU's X Cloud concept is part of the Future and the Arts: AI, Robotic, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo
Lauren Heath-Jones
XTU Architects, a Paris-based architecture firm, has released images and renderings of X Cloud, a new concept that showcase a ...
Metalline transforms London hotel with bespoke aluminium fins
The aluminium fins will form the façade of the upcoming Minories Hotel in Aldgate, London
Lauren Heath-Jones
Metalline, an architectural metalwork specialist based in the UK, has created a range of bespoke 3D twisted metal fins for ...