Berlin Museum of the 20th Century Art with CNTXT Studio

At the heart of the Kulturforum in Berlin, a new museum complex Neue Nationalgalerie – Museum of the 20th Century will enable the collection of the Nationalgalerie, to be presented in an adequate fashion for the first time in decades.

The internationally important holdings of the Nationalgalerie of 20th century art, the Marx and Pietsch collections, the Marzona archive and works from the Museum of Prints and Drawings will be permanently and jointly exhibited for the first time.

The presentation of the holdings will embrace the lower level of the Neue Nationalgalerie and – first and foremost – the exhibition spaces of the new building.

1. The Temple with a Chamber.

A temple of the arts made of glass and steel is carefully choreographed on top of a stone plinth at the edge of the forum. It is a minimalist structural abstraction where space is defined rather than confined; a ground plane, a roof plane and a matrix of columns between the two. A masculine, even austere emptiness that gives access to underground chambers where splendid artistic treasures of the 20th century are concealed.

There is hardly any other city in the world more representative of 20th century’s complexity and idiosyncrasies than Berlin. The city is a vibrant yet at times also turbulent flux, rather than just sedimentation, of the last more than one hundred years.

The 20th century redefined the world’s social, geo-political and economic powers; it was a turning point in science, technology and the humanities. Art followed its most significant moments of change and was quick in incorporating them as distinct artistic manifestations, and so was Architecture. In the words of Mies van der Rohe, “Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into a space”.

A museum of the 20th century should translate, in content as in form—or in Art as in Architecture—the collective will of this century, which assisted to an incredible disparity of things: from world wars, to nuclear tensions and new geo-political arrangements; from social emancipations, to cultural liberations and reactionary movements; from Architecture as forms of political power, to politics experienced and represented through Architecture and Art.

2. A Hole with a Landscape Veil.

Next to the temple, there is a new hole in the ground. It is an unexpected gap as an act of remembrance amidst a prodigious skyline where architecture has been crafted into 20th century masterpieces. A performance of a structured and structuring emptiness that invites us to look down when everything else pushes up. The hole conceals a soft, gentle landscape veil that offered to the forum, and the city beyond, as a sheltered public park.

As one of the European epicentres of change, Berlin has never acted as a passive palimpsest with layers of sedimentation of history, society or culture. Instead, it is a city with healed, yet visible scars in constant flux that do not allow us to forget some of the most meaningful events happening over the course of a century. But remembrance is not simply an act of addition, of construction of a linear progress. Sometimes, it is also a process of scraping, of careful archaeological digging and drilling, of erasure.

In the Kulturforum the cultural values of a divided, and then reunited, city crystallised into architectural masterpieces crafted by some of the most representative architects of the 20th century. Progress here has always been aligned with building, with looking up. Conceived as a temple on top of a plinth, the iconic Neue Nationalgalerie is one of these well-orchestrated architectural objects that invite us to look up.

What if the Gallery was articulated with the New Museum through a gesture of polar opposition? When the former goes up emerging as a minimalist abstraction, the latter goes down submerging as a soft, tender and ecologically active landscape veil. When the concealing emptiness of the first creates in the beholder the noble spectacle of awe, the revealing emptiness of the second involves us all in the generous act of dwelling through the democratic form of a public park.

3. The Museum as an Architectural Skeleton.

Plugged in to the existing temple, the landscape veil performs a constant action of weaving the hole together with the city above. The tender park, in its entire feminine warm embrace, conceals an architectural skeleton that supports it. A series of wide chambers dig even deeper into the ground to lay the foundations of the new museum. The building conceals to reveal: treasures coming from all around the city may gather here to form an integral art collection representative of the 20th century.

The exciting and intense nature of the proposed programme is developed inside a wide architectural skeleton that unfolds over three interconnected underground floors. The architectural language of the building follows a process of deconstruction of a conceptual matrix, through which the many distinct open wide rooms are choreographed as a fluid journey experience.

From the Neue Nationalgalerie a wide staircase brings visitors under Sigmundstrasse, and from Matthaikirchplatz a gently sloped ramp surrounds the remarkable tree, welcoming visitors from the adjacent public space.

The building is concealed by the landscape veil almost entirely, with two exceptions: the restaurant, exposed to the redesigned Matthaikirchplatz and the maple tree; and the visitor centre that contacts directly with the new public space weaving the museum with the Philarmonic.

4. The Beacon and the Viewpoint.

Rising high above the landscape veil, two objects stand out. The beacon drills its way up from the deep quiet chambers below through the new museum and becomes a landmark to the city beyond. A tilted viewpoint offers views to the landscape veil and the temple. Together, they forge visual relationships with Berlin as an ultimate act of compressing the past and the future into the present. Look down, look back, but do not forget to go forward.

Apart from the remarkable tree, the beacon and the viewpoint are the only vertical elements punctuating the park. They forge surprising and distinct relationships of scale, not only with the park and the museum immediately below but also with the forum and the city.

Seen from the outside and with its impressive height, the beacon becomes a landmark that punctuates the new structured emptiness. From the inside, it conceals a wide hall that welcomes visitors coming down from both entrances and distributes them to the different rooms. Its hollow structure allows the light to penetrate in to the underground floors, thus opening a point of light inside the architectural skeleton. Deep down in the museum, an amphitheatre is carved on the ground, where the beacon’s twisted triangular shape amplifies acoustics.

On top of the visitor centre, a slightly tilted viewpoint offers generous views to the park extending south, with the beacon and the remarkable tree, and finally the temple.