Friday, March 5, 2010

Creative architecture

Last week my husband and I visited the Neues Museum in Berlin. The newest museum on Museum Island was originally constructed in the mid-1800s but was severely damaged by bombing in World War II. The building stood for 43 years, weathered and forgotten, until reconstruction efforts began in 1986.

The first step of the restoration process involved recovery of 100,000 fragments of the original building, many of which had been scattered, almost all of which have been reincorporated into the existing structure. The architect selected to design the reconstructed building, David Chipperfield, opted to modernize the structure while adhering to the guidelines of the Charter of Venice, "respecting the historical structure in its different states of preservation."

His designs, opposed by some, who wanted the building reconstructed as it had been before the destruction, instead took the pieces that remained (those thousands of fragments) and filled in the gaps, drawing attention to the losses while modernizing the structure. The pieces from rooms that had been completely destroyed are on display in a small area called the Fragmentarium: heating registers, painted plaster from damaged murals, and pieces of statues adorn the walls and display cases of this room.

I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to visit famous museums, but this was the first time I was completely taken by the architecture, rather than the collections housed in the building. The surviving columns that line the outer walls are riddled with bullet holes and damage from shrapnel. New columns have been added to fill in areas completely destroyed by the bombs. No effort was made to hide the historical events that led to the museum's reconstruction, preserving events of the more recent past alongside older structures.

Inside the museum, murals from the original walls have been restored to their original positions, with missing areas filled in with muted colors that allow the paintings to simply fade away. The overwhelming feeling is one of loss... you can feel how much was lost during the war and the following years when the building was left unattended.

The bust of Queen Nefertiti, which I had seen housed in a different museum prior to the reopening of the Neues Museum, stands on a pedestal in a vaulted, colorful room filled with hushed, reverent admirers. She gazes, with her one remaining glass eye, down a long corridor, looking upon the god Helios in his own vaulted room at the far end. The presentation is extraordinary.

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