What is #Conservation ? The Neues Museum #Berlin

The faithful readers and Instagram followers may have spotted that I was in Berlin recently (half of the week was in Berlin but had to cut the trip short when the Passivhaus conference in the other half was moved (again) online).

The last time I was in the city was on a 5th year college field trip in 1987 – pre-wall coming down. Obviously, the changes and mobility in the city have been incredible to experience and one of the architects that has a major hand in the redevelopment has been David Chipperfield Architects

Now this isn’t a hugely long blog post eulogising on David Chipperfield Architects and nor is it an in-depth analysis of their approach to conservation philosophy – it’s just a couple of observations about how conservation can be approached…

Building 1: The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) – restoration by David Chipperfield Architects

You can read much more about the restoration HERE IN DEZEEN

Let’s first look at what the building looked like when it first opened in 1968:

Photo: Balthazar Korab collection/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

And now here’s a shot of the state it was in prior to restoration in 2015:

Ongoing refurbishment of New National Gallery view ©davidchipperfield.com

“But in 2015, the museum was in a frightening state. The steel of the façade was corroding in places, causing the glass to break and posing a public safety risk. The building had long suffered from bad condensation, limiting what art could be exhibited in the main hall. It was also difficult to keep the glass hall at a constant temperature because of the amount of daylight that floods in, and because the heating under its stone floor had long ago been taken out of service due to leaks and corrosion.” https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/surgical-restoration-of-mies-van-der-rohe-landmark-completed

Below are a couple of photos from YT from the trip:


Conservation Approach #1 – Put it back exactly as it was:

“More Mies, please”

The client’s brief was “as much Mies as possible”, Chipperfield says. But in a building made of glass, there is, as the British architect puts it, “no place to hide”. Making the comprehensive renovation relatively invisible meant removing around 35,000 building components and then putting them back—as far as possible, in exactly the same place.” – (https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/surgical-restoration-of-mies-van-der-rohe-landmark-completed)

Building 2: The Neues Museum – restoration by David Chipperfield Architects

You can read more about the Neues Museum HERE IN DEZEEN but the real crux of this blog post is the approach to conservation for the interiors, again let’s look at the historical photographs:

Here it is ‘in use’ originally:

Image from omrania.com

Now let’s look at the state it was in prior to restoration:

Photograph from inhabitat.com

The first uninitiated response would be to put it back the way that it was; to faithfully reconstruct what it looked like originally.

The more developed response would be to realise that anything of historical value should be saved but in the images shown above you can see that the historical value and the patina of what was there (in this area) is now gone.

Conservation Approach #2 – Clearly define new from old:

So David Chipperfield Architects approach was as follows:

1. The compilation of a Conservation Guideline & Restoration Strategy.

This involved the analysis of what was still remaining in each space – room by room, surface by surface.

2. Based on the above Strategy, the architects provided details on the repairs to the existing fabric in each case.

But what do you do when there is no fabric left to repair?

3. You replace items (such as the staircase) in a method that follows the form but not the detail of the item that it replaces.

The result of the main staircase hall (shown in a photo by YT below) is preserved only as a brick volume and all of it’s original ornamentation has not been replaced. The new staircase is of pre-cast concrete where the parts that are touched are polished smooth whilst the rest is distressed and rough.

This approach clearly separates what is old and what is new (as defined in the Conservation Charters) so that the contemporary elements ‘borrow from the main contours of the original structure but are identified as modern additions by their absence of ornamentation’ (Architecture FROM COMMISSION TO CONSTRUCTION – Jennifer Hudson)

Comments as always welcome and if you’re looking for an architect accredited in Conservation then why not CONTACT ME…

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