Refurbishment of Neue Nationalgalerie

In 1962 the Berlin Senate commissioned Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (*1886 in Aachen, †1969 in Chicago) to build a museum in the city to house 20th-century art. The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery), constructed 1965-68, was the only building erected by the architect in Germany during the post-war period. The museum is a landmark of modern architecture and is listed as a protected monument by the State of Berlin.

No major work has been done on the building since it opened in 1968 almost 50 years ago. 2015 marks the beginning of a four-year project of refurbishment and modernisation, the contract having been awarded to David Chipperfield Architects in 2012. Founded by David Chipperfield in 1985, with offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai, the company specialises inter alia in cultural projects. Chipperfield headed the reconstruction of Berlin’s Neues Museum (New Museum) on the Museumsinsel Berlin (Museum Island), which re-opened in 2009, and designed the James Simon Gallery, currently under construction there.

The aim of the Neue Nationalgalerie refurbishment project is to repair all damaged features and correct serious safety deficits. Works include fire-prevention measures, renovation of the entire exterior, removal of the root cause of glass breakage, an overhaul of the concrete shell and the renewal of building technology. The building must also meet the requirements of a modern museum with regard to issues such as air conditioning, safety, lighting, storage functions and visitor services.

The managers of this major repair project will liaise closely with the Landesdenkmalamt (Berlin Office for Monument Protection). The common goal is to preserve the visual aspect of the building and retain as much of the historical structure as possible. As refurbishment cannot take place during opening hours, the museum will be closed for the duration of works.

The Neue Nationalgalerie is dedicated to the art of the 20th century. It contains selections from the Nationalgalerie’s diverse collection, which is on show at five further locations: Alte Nationalgalerie, Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, Museum Berggruen, Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg and Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin.

The Neue Nationalgalerie is the last major construction completed by the luminary of modern architecture, Mies van der Rohe. The architect’s long-term preoccupation with creating fluid, open spaces culminated in the design of the glazed upper pavilion of the gallery. The architect died shortly after the building’s inauguration. With its steel roof and gracefully austere architectural vernacular, the Neue Nationalgalerie not only stands as an icon of modernism, but as testament to a visionary architect of the 20th century. When it was built, the museum stood on the edge of what was then West Berlin. It was constructed as one of the vital cornerstones of the Kulturforum, as planned by another great architect of the postwar period, Hans Scharoun. Thanks to the reunification of Germany and of Berlin, and the ensuing hive of construction activity at Potsdamer Platz, the Neue Nationalgalerie no longer stands in an abandoned wasteland but in the busy heart of the city.

The history of the Neue Nationalgalerie is inextricably linked to the political division of Germany and the city of Berlin that resulted as a consequence of the Second World War. The Nationalgalerie’s collection, originally on display on the Museumsinsel Berlin and later, in the 1920s, also in the Kronprinzen-Palais on Unter den Linden, was initially managed by the Greater Berlin Authority in the years immediately following the war. The founding in 1949 of two German states, with two diametrically opposed political systems and differing ideologies concerning art and its role in society, marked the end of a unified collection.  The West Berlin authorities took strides to rebuild the collection by setting up a ‘Gallery of the 20th Century’. Further to this, parts of the Nationalgalerie’s original collection of 19th-century art were found in West Germany after being taken from Berlin in the chaos during and immediately following the war. In 1962 Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design a new museum building to house both this collection of 19th century art and the ‘Gallery of the 20th Century’. In September 1965, the architect came to Berlin for the laying of the foundation stone. Two years later he also personally attended the most spectacular construction stage: the hydraulic raising into place of the gigantic steel roof. The building was opened on 15 September 1968 and bore the name Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery). Its name signalled the departure from the old and the start of a new chapter in the cultural rebirth of West Berlin.

The building’s architectural structure has remained virtually unchanged ever since. The urban setting in which it stands, however, has undergone radical changes: the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) emerged at almost the same time as the Neue Nationalgalerie, on the opposite side of Potsdamer Strasse, and was followed by the Kammermusiksaal (or ‘chamber music hall’) erected next to the Philharmonie, which by this point was already standing. These buildings were joined over time by a cluster of museums in the form of the Kulturforum, and, after German reunification, by the urban redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz.

Visitor entrance

Potsdamer Straße 50
10785 Berlin

Getting there

Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 266424242 (Mon - Fri 9 am - 4 pm)
Fax: +49 (0)30 / 266422290

Postal address:
Potsdamer Straße 50
10785 Berlin

Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 266424510
Fax: +49 (0930 / 266424545

Director of the Nationalgalerie: Udo Kittelmann
Head of the Neue Nationalgalerie: Dr. Joachim Jäger

During necessary renovations, the Neue Nationalgalerie is closed from January 2015 for several years.