Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie Reopens with an Alexander Calder Exhibition

After being closed for six and a half years for a renovation by David Chipperfield Architects, the Berlin museum reopened Sunday, August 22.

Neue Nationalgalerie
Minimal / Maximal is a solo exhibition of Alexander Calder’s opening this Sunday at the newly reopened Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Courtesy Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Reinhard Friedrich

After almost 50 years of exhibition history, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin closed in late 2014 due to a much-needed overhaul. This Sunday, August 22, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s last completed work and only postwar building in Europe opens after six and a half years of renovation spearheaded by David Chipperfield Architects.

For the museum, the architect took unrealized plans he drew for a Bacardi Rum company administration building in Cuba and created a delicate structure consisting of a large glass hall with a steel roof protruding far. Interpreting the appearance in their way, the locals lovingly named the listed building “the gas station.”

Neue Nationalgalerie
Sculpture garden Courtesy Simon Menges

Across a gross floor area of almost 150,000-square-feet, exhibition areas take up the building’s open space ground and lower ground floor. The outdoor facilities include a sculpture garden and podium terrace on which the 18-foot-tall masterpiece Têtes et Queue by American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898–1976), originally installed for the museum’s opening in 1968, returns.

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Minimal/Maximal, one of the two opening solo exhibitions, highlights Calder’s smallest and largest works, juxtaposing the sculptor’s organic forms with Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. This symbiosis also enriches the Chicago cityscape, where Calder’s Flamingo adorns the plaza in front of the German architect’s Federal Building.

Neue Nationalgalerie
Courtesy Simon Menges

During the Neue Nationalgalerie construction period, the lifting of the 1,250-ton cassette roof—which was welded together on-site using eight hydraulic presses—made for an unusual event. The renovation is in no way inferior to spectacle. David Chipperfield had the Neue Nationalgalerie completely dismantled into 35,000 parts, each identified by a 16-digit code.

“Taking apart a building of such unquestionable authority has been a strange experience but a privilege,” Chipperfield says. “Seeing behind its exterior has revealed both its genius and its flaws, but overall, it has only deepened my admiration for Mies’ vision,” he adds.

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The exhibition hall at night. Courtesy Simon Menges

The renovation focused on the general overhaul of the structure and paved the way for sustainability, including the removal of toxins and hazardous materials used during the construction of the building, such as asbestos and artificial mineral fiber. The project team implemented contemporary technical and energy-related standards, for example, installing a highly efficient run-around coil system, which assists the air conditioning in achieving the building’s required cooling capacity. Moreover, barrier-free access was introduced. In addition to the barrier-free elevator, swing doors (as an alternative to the two revolving doors) make the building more universally accessible. People with hearing impairments benefit from a voice alarm system, a hearing amplification system, and visual alarm displays. For people with visual impairments tactile handrail information, stair markings, and artificial lighting have been installed.

Converting existing fixtures, LED technology suitable for museum use now casts the perfect light on the displayed works of art—the Calder show, which will run until February 2022, being the first.

You may also enjoy “An Exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Center Remembers Helmut Jahn

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