Chipperfield Architects’ refresh of the Neue Nationalgalerie nearing completion in Berlin

Mending a Mies Masterpiece

Chipperfield Architects’ refresh of the Neue Nationalgalerie nearing completion in Berlin

An expansive, years-long revamp of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie, a landmark museum completed in 1968 in the heart of Berlin’s Kulturforum cultural complex, is nearing completion.

Headed by the Berlin office of English architect (and recent Order of the Companions of Honour recipient) David Chipperfield’s eponymous firm, renovation work kicked off in 2015 and, after some delay due to the pandemic, is set to wrap up in April with a planned reopening slated for August of this year with an exhibition of works by Alexander Calder. The renovation, which cost roughly $124 million, marks the first major modernization project to be undertaken at the museum, the modern art-focused arm of the National Gallery, in its over 50-year history. Joining a number of other architecturally significant buildings at the Kulturforum including Hans Scharoun’s Berlin State Library and Berliner Philharmonie, the Neue Nationalgalerie—“one of the icons of 20th-century architecture” per Chipperfield Architects—is among Mies’s best known and most beloved completed works in his native Germany. (It was also his only completed German work following his emigration to the United States in 1937.)

Recent photography of the Neue Nationalgalerie’s nearing-the-finish-line status comes courtesy of the Bonn-headquartered Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR), which described the nearly 150,000-square-foot museum, the glass-encased main exhibition hall in particular, as shining “with a new light and in its old splendor.” To ensure that the showing-its-age museum, a protected monument, retained its original architectural elements and strong visual identity, Berlin’s Landesdenkmalamt (Office for Monument Protection) played a key role in the fastidious rehab and restoration process.

internal stairs at the neu nationalgalerie showing wood panels
Staircase down to the lower of the museum and its permanent collection gallery and guest facilities. (Thoms Bruns/Courtesy BBR)

As detailed by the BBR, the boxy, bi-level museum’s upper exhibition/entrance hall has been outfitted with over 17,000 square feet of new glass as part of a major faced overhaul, while the steel framework of the dramatically cantilevered roof was also carefully restored and 27,000 square feet of Striegau granite cladding was “reinstalled after their conservation-restoration,” per the BBR.

Numerous original interior fittings ranging from shelving and handrails were also removed, restored, and subsequently reinstalled as part of the top-to-bottom renovation while 21st-century upgrades such as LED lighting and a new HVAC system bring a new level of comfort to the exhibition spaces while minimizing the museum’s overall environmental impact. Accessibility for visitors of all abilities was also improved and visitor amenities such as restrooms, the coatroom, cafe, and museum shop have all been modernized. Extensive repair and restoration work was also carried out at the museum’s exterior public areas and within the famed sculpture garden, also designed by Mies.

exterior of neu nationalgalerie in berlin
Historic photo of the Neue Nationalgalerie and Tetes et Queue by Alexander Calder in Berlin. ( Hans Knips/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

“After almost 50 years, the damage, deficiencies and deficits of intensive use are to be carefully and sustainably addressed, within the restrictions imposed by the building’s status as a listed monument,” explained Chipperfield Architects explained. “The refurbishment and modernisation aims for maximum preservation of the existing fabric, with minimum visual compromise to the building’s original appearance.

“The refurbishment does not represent a new interpretation, but rather a respectful repair of this landmark of the International Style,” added the firm.

More information about the meticulous, Mies-honoring refurbishment–and the museum’s much anticipated reopening—can be found at the Neue Nationalgalerie website.