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David Chipperfield-designed James-Simon-Galerie opens on Museum Island in Berlin

Berlin’s Museum Island on the River Spree welcomes a new addition – the James-Simon-Galerie designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which will officially open to the public 12 July. The new building serves as a visitors’ centre for all five museums on the island, providing direct access to the Pergamon Museum (home to such treasures as the Ishtar Gate and the Pergamon Altar) and the Neues Museum (home to the Egyptian collection, including that iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti).

The primary function of the James-Simon-Galerie, explains Urs Vogt, Chipperfield’s project architect, ‘is to take the load of mass tourism’ and accommodate a projected peak rate of 10,000 visitors per day. Its other function is as a 24/7 public space. Hence, the architects pushed the technical functions of the building down into the basement, leaving the top as a ‘landscape, which connects views from the city to the island and back the other way’.

The modern building is rooted in its context – a long colonnade of slender pillars on top of the building is a stripped-down echo of the extensive 19th-century colonnades designed by Friedrich August Stüler on the rest of the island. Its visual dominance underscores the structure’s role as a simultaneously functional, connective and public space.

With its monolithic exterior of precast, sandblasted concrete and aggregate of local marble and sand, the building appears simple, but hides its own structural complexity. The island is basically a swamp and the entire building is sitting on 1,200 micropiles up to 50m long.

The architecture guides visitors from the glazed café area to the shop and cloakrooms, into the basement to the 300-seat auditorium, 650 sq m shared exhibition space, and the underground entrances to the future ‘archaeological promenade’ due for completion in 2025/26. ‘You can walk through the whole building without actually opening a door, except for the auditorium – everything is open,’ says Vogt. §

The full version of this story appeared in the July 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*244)

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