Now the museum island is fully developed. Next Friday, the James Simon Gallery will be the last to open. Angela Merkel will address the list of speakers with an address, and the fact that this time the Federal Chancellor, not her Minister of State, speaks, underlines the importance attached to the process in political Berlin. Older remember the first appearance of a Federal Chancellor on the Museum Island: That was in 1999, when Gerhard Schröder announced to the joyous surprise of those present the full takeover of future construction and renovation costs of the island by the federal government.
Twenty years and hundreds of millions of euros later, the first and only new building will be inaugurated. Since the opening of the Pergamon Museum in 1930, it has been housed on Museum Island. Apart from the current new construction, all construction costs since the end of the war have been spent on the renovation of the existing buildings, in the case of the Neues Museum, which had emerged as a three-quarter ruin from the Second World War, for a complete reconstruction. The latter was done by London architect David Chipperfield, who became a near-Berliner and became world-famous.
Chipperfield embodies after Schinkel (Altes Museum) with his pupils August Stüler (New Museum) and Heinrich Strack (Old National Gallery), after Ernst von Ihne (Bode Musuem) and after Adolf Messel / Ludwig Hoffmann (Pergamon Museum) the fourth style of the Museum island. With the Simon Gallery, it connects the oldest and the youngest of the predecessors, between Schinkel's columns and the pedestal of the Pergamon Museum.
The function does not follow the form here
This can be seen and understood when approaching from the Lustgarten or from the Kupfergraben. If you look at the dense row of pillars that rise snow-white from the equally white pedestal, and behind them the gray colossus of the Pergamon Museum.
Immediately it becomes clear why Chipperfield so vehemently rejects the motto of supposedly all modernity, form follows function. For the function of the James Simon Gallery is by no means followed by its form. It follows, if at all, out of the necessity to be an optical link of this heterogeneous museum island and to mediate between the solitaires, to whom it will serve in the future as a central entrance building. The functions housed in the building itself do not enforce a specific form; they have come together additively – "a wish list", as Chipperfield notes – according to what is missing on the Museum Island and now somehow had to be accommodated.
The building is called a gallery and it is, but not primarily. Yes, there is a hall for temporary exhibitions, 650 square meters in size, located daylightless in the pedestal. The actual purpose of the building is to serve as the main entrance to the island. Therefore, a large ticket hall above, a smaller one on the ground floor, a cloakroom, the inevitable shop; to lecture hall and exhibition space.
An almost compelling endpoint of the Museum Island
And a café-restaurant at the height of the terrace and loggia, directly accessible from the wide outside staircase, which will be most memorable as a motif next to the pillar wall. This grand staircase does not follow a majestic museum construction – rather, the staircase is chosen as a motif, as a place of ascent and descent and maybe also the Sitzsitzends. The café will be operated independently of the opening hours of the museums and will hopefully be the desired place where life still reigns when the museums are closed.
(In our people's newsletters from the twelve boroughs in Berlin, we regularly deal with cultural politics, among other things.) You can order the newsletter here for free: mensch.tagesspiegel.de)
Chipperfield has composed a building from this wish list of facilities. The fact that it does not appear to be merely additive, like the enumeration of the functions contained therein, makes up the genius of its design. It acts as a unit, as an almost imperative end point of the Museum Island at this difficult place. Because only a narrow towel at the property was available, and so a building of only 10 900 square meters gross floor area, of which 4600 square meters of floor space. The larger part of the building, it seems, consists of staircases, corridors, passageways – a house to stroll around for the sake of strolling.
But you can step from the loggia through a simple yet solemn door into the neighboring Pergamon Museum. On the other hand, at the New Museum, one has to turn right on the ground floor, where a monumentally displayed tree trunk, a foundation pile drawn from the ground, draws attention to the nature of the water-rich terrain – and to the archaeological collection areas of the New Museum.
The "Archaeological Promenade" is still a dream of the future
With the other museums, the connection still lags for years, because the "Archaeological Promenade", which is to take its exit here, is a dream of the future. The Housekeepers of the Bundestag, who have to turn over Schröder's Chancellor pledge to turn them into specific allocations, want to see one construction task completed before they approve the next one. Just how right they are doing has just shown the James Simon Gallery, whose costs have almost doubled by bungling the construction of the surprisingly promised in 2006 71 to now 134 million euros. Years of delay was the result – compared to the initially announced opening 2012 a whopping seven years. This probably explains why the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz as the client has organized a whole series of events, from the laying of the foundation stone to the topping-out ceremony, then "key handover" to the upcoming opening, supplemented by a number of interim visits for the expert public. They were anxious to keep showing that things are moving forward.
Such a happy outcome was not predetermined from the beginning of the project. Chipperfield could sing a song of it. His first draft, which he made parallel to commissioning with the reconstruction of the New Museum, fell through with those responsible. There was a lot of glass and steel, there were blocks next to each other. But no one really knew what would have to happen here and for what purpose. It happened like that.
Chipperfield made quite a turnaround, as he found in the nineties to his own style, that of a classic-timeless modernity. At the Literature Museum of Modern Art in Marbach am Neckar in 2006, he tested the flat roof supported by pillars, the outermost abbreviation of a temple. He had seen the massive pedestal on Kupfergrabens – later broken up by two windows – in the competition entry Giorgio Grassis from 1994. Grassi is forgotten today, but the Italian rationalist had the idea formulated by Chipperfield's second draft of 2007. All at once, the design was almost finished, as it now stands.
The length of this procedure, which is typically complicated in terms of Berlin, has already proved its worth for the Museum Island for the second time after the New Museum. Both times Chipperfield is the architect. He demonstrated an angelic patience with all the misgivings that came, talked and left over the years. But the architect has learned so much from it, as can be seen in other buildings, such as the conversion of the Royal Academy in London. That's probably how Schinkel had to wrestle with his king. Except that Chipperfield saw no king, but a vast number of willing to co-talk. The authority that Chipperfield radiates today, at the zenith of his creation, he has truly acquired.
With James Simon, the foundation has been hard
The second characteristic of his architecture besides the sovereign creation of space is the choice and treatment of materials. Chipperfield values the most careful execution. Only then does his minimalism escape the forms of danger of being unfinished or even cheap. Impeccable are the slender pillars, although they are made of concrete – with added marble dust. The floor is covered with shell limestone, the door frames are made of architectural bronze, and the auditorium has an elegant corrugated dark wooden ceiling. The hard, felt-benches, however, seem to preserve the puritanical heritage of Cromwell England.
(James-Simon-Galerie, Bodestr. (Center), daily 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, Thursdays until 8:30 pm All tickets, museum pass, welcome card, etc. are available there -23 pm – Publication: David Chipperfield Architects: James Simon Gallery, Numbers, Photographs by Thomas Struth, Publisher of the bookstore Walther König, Cologne, 246 pages, 160 illustrations, 38 €.)
Remains the exhibition hall. In it, a four-week exhibition will be shown to James Simon, the greatest patron of Berlin museums. The invitation of the SPK for the opening was accompanied by a pamphlet on Simon – whose total circulation of 5000 copies, however, did not finance the foundation, but only a patron of our day, Waldtraut Braun, like the indefatigable champion for the honoring of Simon, Bernd Schultz, too duly announced.
With James Simon, the foundation has struggled – why? In the gallery named after him there is a bronze tribute to the entrance wall, which was certainly not intended from the beginning. The opening exhibition is a compromise, because originally the museums wanted to perform a jubilee exhibition of the Gipsformerei. It will be done later.
Now the public is taking possession of the new building – their new building, financed by taxpayers' money. To feel liberated with the ascent on the wide flight of steps and to cover the whole "sanctuary of art and science" is given to all citizens from the weekend. A stroke of luck.