Neues Museum

Julien Harrap

Julian Harrap Architects

95 Kingsland Road London E2 8AG

Berlin, Germany
European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture / Mies van der Rohe Award 2011

An Approach Philosophy

The meticulous process of repair and restoration carried out on the ruined Neues Museum makes explicit the process as a series of informed and careful judgments balancing the status of the component piece with the vision of the whole. The original and the repair, the restoration and the intervention are fused together into a singular whole. The debate about attitudes to the extent of restoration and the manipulation of the surviving debris of the ruin are an essential part of the architects' responsibilities. The form of the building was sufficiently complete to demand the re-establishment of the two courtyards to north and south of the central Treppenhalle. The new portions of building could provide support to the surviving galleries both structurally and from the servicing point of view.

The surviving structure had been brutalized as part of the necessary underpinning process to secure the structure from further settlement into the sedimentary layers of Sprey Island. To develop an attitude towards the surviving original material the ephemeral structural interventions in red brick were removed and the original masonry was stitched together using reclaimed and recycled material from elsewhere in the City. The presentation of the new structures was also integrated by the use of reclaimed brickwork facing. The surviving surfaces of render were consolidated back to their substrate after cleaning and repair. The supporting areas of substrate brickwork were slurried to provide a consistent colour support to the surviving material while, at the same time, avoiding the deception of concealing the brick substrate.

New raw stonework indents and cast terracotta were integrated into the damaged classical mouldings around windows, doors, band course and cornices, to offer the eye continuity within the formal geometry of a classical building. Figurative sculpture of cast zinc was replicated where the iconographic sequence was inconsequential. The great sculptures were repaired in the manner of the antique with the very minimum of new work to confirm the history of suffering and damage to which they had been subjected.

The task was to develop strategies and techniques that dealt with repair at different scales yet had a consistency of approach. The dynamic correspondence between repair, conservation, restoration and intervention evolved throughout a continuous dialogue between all the participants in the process. Stuler and Schinkel became our constant companions as we worked on the freezing of the ruin and the interventions demanded by recent history.

The first task was to bridge the gap between the great traditions of Beaux Arts reconstruction, as practiced so explicitly and with masterful self-confidence in Potsdam and the somewhat, more pragmatic Anglo-Saxon approach based on the writings of William Morris in 1877.  This philosophy, which lead to the establishment of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), was based on the proposition that the ruin of a building had greater meaning in recording its journey through time than its completion or reproduction in a theoretically correct manner.  With great patience, a group was established, to create a vocabulary of English and German words, dealing with the concepts of repair, reproduction, recreation, restoration and intervention. Each component of the process to be undertaken was subject to rigorous analysis and debate providing a reference document which served throughout the period of the contract.

The second task was to lay down a series of conservation strategies, which would resolve questions arising during the course of the works to attempt a single-minded approach to the multifarious decision making process.  Strategies were to be explicit in relation to individual materials, works of art and the issues of intervention arising from the occupation of the building by 20th century museum. It would have been so easy to consider the building alone and neglect the needs of the ultimate user.  An example of the strategy developed in debate was the approach to the surviving external render. Many were distressed by an approach which left large parts of the rendered surface of the external envelope un-rendered but treated with lime-based slurries and silicate washes to suppress the colour of the substrate material while diminishing the accidental line of damage around the plates of render.   All the surviving rendered surfaces were cleaned and consolidated back to their substrate. The brickwork, to which the render was applied, was repaired with second-hand salvaged bricks consistent with the original.  Old pointing was largely retained and only supplemented with matching mixes where wind and water erosion had washed it away.  The red colour of the bricks was suppressed to harmonise the colour with the surviving render so that at a distance the classical building appears complete. 

The third element, which served to define the intellectual framework for the building's repair and reconstruction, was concerned with establishing a series of guidelines for individual spaces within the building.  Some were so desolate and fragmentary that they invited new work of the highest quality.  Others were a complex mixture of almost total surviving mid-19th century decorative schemes extending to almost completely obliterated finished and decorated surfaces.  The guidelines leant on the geometry of the structural bay widths of the gallery to strive to establish a series of stepped levels of restoration and repair where the surviving material required contextual support to give it meaning.  The unifying element in each gallery was always the floor-plate extending from end-to-end.  Here the demands of a visiting population of a million visitors per year required a level of consolidation beyond the limits of the intellectual conservation framework established for ceilings, walls and columns.

These three basic documents served the project well and as the design developed, were constantly being referred to as references from which the detailed strategies for conservation were built.  In order to bring richness and personality to the implementation of the system each of the twenty galleries was awarded to different firms of conservation contractors to avoid the imposition of one practitioner's style to similar materials throughout the Museum. The invigilation of the process of repair was undertaken by the conservation architect visiting on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to assess proto-types, mock-ups and test pieces before implementation to full scale.  In that way a consistent base line of judgement was, by common consent, brought to bear on the whole of the portfolio of tasks involved.    The repaired building is the final document which confirms the ambition and responsibilities of all those who contributed to the great task of rescuing the Neues Museum from dereliction to its proper place in the European family of national museums. 


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