Museum Island Overview of the Buildings
Altes Museum Neues Museum Pergamonmuseum Bode-Museum Alte Nationalgalerie James-Simon-Galerie Archäologisches Zentrum Erweiterung Bode-Museum

Neues Museum

Neues Museum (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2012
Reopened in 2009

A Ruin from the War for More than Sixty Years

In 2009, the Neues Museum was the third museum on the Museum Island to be reopened. This means that all five exhibition locations are now open to the public again for the first time since 1939. David Chipperfield Architects restored the museum, which had been damaged and partly destroyed during World War II. Parts of the interior were exposed to the elements for more than 60 years. The architects’ office was guided by the concept of “complementary restoration” developed jointly with restoration architect Julian Harrap. Since its reopening, the Neues Museum has won numerous awards.

The original construction of the Neues Museum began in 1843 based on plans by the architect Friedrich August Stüler. It opened in 1859, being the first building of the “sanctuary for art and science” envisioned by Friedrich Wilhelm IV, and the second building on today’s Museum Island following the Altes Museum. Today, the Neues Museum houses the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, as well as selected objects from the Collection of Classical Antiquities.

© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

First Step towards a “Sanctuary for Art and Science”

Friedrich August Stüler, a student of Schinkel, planned the Neues Museum as part of a larger overall concept. The building has an almost rectangular ground plan, and its longitudinal axis runs parallel to the Kupfergraben. For the exterior design of the building, Stüler drew on the neo-classical architecture of the Altes Museum. Since 1860 an arcade has enclosed the Neues Museum and since 1878 the adjoining Colonnade Courtyard as well. In the course of a complete renovation, the southern cupola, which was completely destroyed during World War II, and the northwest wing were rebuilt in their original structure but in a modern style.

Complete Renovation of the Neues Museum

The Neues Museum was heavily damaged and partly destroyed during World War II. While the other buildings on the Museum Island were reconstructed after the war, the Neues Museum was left in its damaged state. It was not renovated for decades. Only in the last years before reunification were some protective measures taken.

Architectural Competitions and Plans

In 1993, tenders for an international competition were invited for the reconstruction of the Neues Museum. However, the results were not satisfying. After a second competition, the office of David Chipperfield Architects was commissioned in 1997 to restore the building. At first there were deliberations to make the Neues Museum into the central entrance of the Museum Island, and to guide visitors to the Altes Museum and the Pergamonmuseum via the first floor. This would have meant exposing highly fragile historical rooms to heavy flows of visitors. Hence, alternatives were sought for a more considerate treatment of the Neues Museum within the museum complex. It was against that backdrop that the Museum Island Master Plan was devised, and then approved in 1999. In 2000, developmental planning for the Neues Museum was completed.

Careful Reconstruction

“Careful reconstruction” was the leitmotif of the reconstruction and restoration works which began in 2003. Based on the plans by architect David Chipperfield, the original fabric of the building was preserved, and the reconstruction was guided by the existing structure and cubature as designed by Stüler. While new elements are recognizable as such, they blend in with the old. Depending on the type and degree of damage, the architects sought an individual solution for each of the rooms. They were restored, reconstructed, complemented, or rebuilt to varying degrees. In all considerations, priority was given to preserving the historical elements. Parts of the building that were completely or largely destroyed, such as the northwest wing, the southeastern cupola, and the monumental staircase were rebuilt by David Chipperfield in their historical size but with a modern design vocabulary.

By lowering the foundation plate, an urgently needed additional exhibition floor was made available on the ground level. This is where the Archaeological Promenade runs along the longitudinal axis of the building. The Greek Courtyard and the Egyptian Courtyard were restored in a manner that does not require rebuilding when they become part of the Archaeological Promenade in the future. The courtyards will establish the thematic and architectural link to the neighboring buildings.

Collections in the Neues Museum

Department of Ethnology, the Cast Collection of Antique Sculptures, the Collection of Prints and Drawings, and the Architectural Collection. The original décor of the interior rooms alluded to the presentations. It was created by artists of Late Neo-Classicism and Historicism. When the museum was completely renovated, the concept of careful reconstruction was applied to the décor as well, which had survived to varying degrees.

Neues Museum in 1960 (photograph) Neues Museum in 2009 (visualization)

Historical Views

Designed by Friedrich August Stüler, the Neues Museum opened in 1859. It was the first museum to have three exhibition levels which were placed on both sides of the monumental staircase. Back then, construction techniques such as the use of a grillage foundation, lightweight bricks and pre-fabricated cast-iron components were pioneering in terms of technology. The building was connected to the Altes Museum by a bridge. During World War II, parts of the Neues Museum were destroyed by bombs. In GDR times there were repeated plans to demolish the ruin. However, in 1985 it was eventually decided to rebuild the museum.

Entrances to the Neues Museum and the Archaeological Promenade (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

Entrances

The main entrance to the Neues Museum is located beneath the colonnades on the eastern side of the building. Since the reopening in 2009, there has been another access on the western side of the museum. As soon as the New Courtyard, which is bordered by the Neues Museum, the Pergamonmuseum, and the James-Simon-Galerie, is opened, that new entrance will be accessible to the public. Inside the museum, the Egyptian Courtyard and the Greek Courtyard are part of the future Archaeological Promenade which will connect the Neues Museum with the Altes Museum, the Pergamonmuseum, the Bode-Museum, and the James-Simon-Galerie.

West façade of the Neues Museum (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

Dates and Facts

  • Built from 1843 onward, structurally completed in 1847, finished in 1855, opened in 1859 (after several intermediate openings)
  • Architect: Friedrich August Stüler
  • 1943/1945: damaged and partly destroyed by bombs
  • 1985: decision to rebuild the museum, followed by emergency renovation measures
  • 1993: invitation of tenders for restoration and reconstruction
  • 1997: the first five prize winners are called upon to set forth their ideas about the rebuilding in a peer-review process
  • 2003-2009: rebuilding based on plans by David Chipperfield Architects
  • 2007: topping out ceremony
  • 2009: reopening
  • 2014: opening of the new permanent exhibition “Steinzeit, Bronzezeit, Eisenzeit” (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age) in the Museum of Prehistory and Early History on the third level

Architectural Awards

Following its opening, the Neues Museum has received numerous awards.

  • “Preis der Europäischen Union für zeitgenössische Architektur/Mies-van-der-Rohe-Preis” (2011)
  • “Deutscher Architekturpreis” (2011)
  • “Philippe Rotthier European Prize for Architecture” (2011)
  • Preis der Europäischen Union für das Kulturerbe “Europa Nostra Award 2010”
  • “Große Nike” (main award) and “Nike für Detailvollkommenheit 2010” by the Bund Deutscher Architekten (BDA)
  • “Travel + Leisure Design Award 2010”, category “Bestes Museum” (best museum)
  • “BDA-Preis Berlin” (2009)
  • Sonderpreis zum Architekturpreis Berlin (2009)
  • “BZ-Kulturpreis Berlin” (2009)
  • “RIBA Award” as well as “RIBA Crown Estate Conservation Award” of the Royal Institute of British Architects (2009)
  • “Excellence in Design Award” in the category “Historical Preservation/Restoration” by the American Institute of Architecture UK Chapter (2009)