In 1997, London-based David Chipperfield Architects won a competition to restore the Neues Museum, an imposing ruin at the center of Berlin’s Museum Island. Designed by Friedrich August Stüler and completed in 1859, the museum had lain open to the elements for decades after sustaining heavy damage in World War II. The architects could have argued for the structure’s replication—along the lines proposed for Berlin’s Schloss—or opted for the opposing strategy of the city’s Kaiser Wilhelm Church: the wreck preserved in amber.
Chipperfield, working with restoration architect Julian Harrap, chose a much more difficult path. Their meticulous re-completion, to house the collections of Berlin’s Egyptian and pre- and early history museums, preserves the power of the building as ruin: The architects conserved the existing fabric whenever possible, leaving the museum’s half-exposed brickwork and shell-pocked facades as testament to time’s decay.
Yet where elements were irretrievable—including the museum’s southeast bay and the entire northwest wing—modern interventions were made that followed Stüler’s original volumes and room sequences. The marble staircase in the ravaged main hall (above left), for example, was replaced with a reinvention made of white cement and Saxonian marble chips. The effect, here and elsewhere, can be mesmerizing: Interior open spaces like the Greek Courtyard (top), are simply roofed with glass. Their handmade-brick walls, now sparingly retouched, convey like nothing else the richly raveled strands of time.