David Chipperfield, the London architect in charge of resuscitating Berlin’s Neues Museum – at a cost of some $255 million – has persevered through an 11-year effort (although, ordeal is perhaps the more apt word at this point).
All existing usable scraps and remnants of the original, countless thousands of pieces, big and small, including even bullet holes, were to be incorporated into the building. The process, Mr. Chipperfield has repeatedly said, entailed “millions of decisions,” technical, aesthetic and political – and where no pieces of the original survived, new spaces were invented along the lines of Stüler’s original. The whole northwest wing of the building, for example, had been destroyed by the air raids; much of the southern end, including one magnificent gallery with a soaring cupola, now reinvented in ingeniously modern terms, was demolished by the East Germans when they undertook an aborted renovation not long before the Wall fell. And the colossal stairwell, the centerpiece of the building, modeled after a plan by Stüler’s great teacher, the neo-Classicist Karl Friedrich Schinkel, was left an empty shell by the bombardments.
This is such a magnificent project that 35000 Berliners queued in the rain to see the restored architecture on an initial preview day – before any of the exhibits had yet been returned to the space – and for me too, a trip to Berlin is already on the cards.