Sited within one of Berlin’s most iconic cultural hubs, our proposal for the Museum of the 20th Century is a contextual response to the urban master plan of the Kulturforum, activating connections between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Berliner Philharmonie, as well as the Stadtbibliotek and the existing piazzetta. Acknowledging the site’s frontage within the context of Potsdamerstrasse as well as the preservation of the existing trees, the scheme is located on the eastern end of the site, providing ample public space that extends the program of the piazzetta whilst buffering the sound and traffic coming from the east. The scheme acknowledges the importance of creating spaces that activate the formal axes that exist on site, and envisions seamless visual and programmatic connections that consolidate the visitor’s experience of the Kulturforum.
Conceptually, the building is conceived as a solid mass with two voids carved from within, one along the North-South axis at ground level and another one along the East-West axis on the exhibition levels above. This vertical layering ensures visual and circulatory connections between the Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, as well as the Berlin State Library and the Kulturforum. The three-dimensional intersection of these voids results from the layering of these two axes, and creates a large multi-story atrium that becomes the heart of the project. Perpendicular surfaces are blended at this intersection, producing soft curvilinear geometries that stand in contrast to the austere sharp lines of the exterior envelope, and becomes the main architectural feature of the project.
“More than just a museum lobby, it’s an urban civic space drenched by diffuse natural light—evoking a sense of reverence that one experiences at places such as a Gothic cathedral or a Roman bath. More than a museum, this is a temple for art and civic culture.”
The introduction of a new Museum of the 20th Century and its complementary open spaces create the possibility for major improvements to the urban plan of the Kulturforum. While the area already has a wealth of attractions and important uses, there is also an opportunity to clarify circulation, provide new amenities, and give a formal architectural coherence to the area. The design of the Museum and its site respect the plan for the development of the Kulturforum—re-aligning Herbert-von-Karajan-Strasse with Matthäikirchplatz, closing Scharounstrasse to public vehicles, improving intersections and connections, and allowing for views to the surrounding monuments that are layered, but uncompromised. As a result of the urban planning moves, pedestrians are given priority throughout the site and flows between all of the major assets are ensured. At the same time, bicycle parking, public transit, delivery access, and handicap accessible parking are nested within the design.
“The result is a scheme that acts as an urban connector and platform; allowing the characters—art, urban dwellers, and iconic architecture—to perform and intertwine.”
SPATIAL CONCEPT, QUALITY OF THE INTERIOR SPACES, ACCESSIBILITY, LIGHTING
Respecting the strategies devised at an urban level, the scheme’s approach to space-planning acknowledges the variation of scales, uses, and environments required by the different programs—prioritizing the operational feasibility of the building just as much as the architectural themes established in our design approach. Structural load-bearing zones are symmetrically aligned flanking the North-South axis of the building, and contain fully-accessible infrastructure for egress, visitor and staff elevators, as well as oversized lifts for the maneuvering and distribution of art between the depot below grade and the galleries above.
“This strategy organizes the plan at a diagrammatic level, ensuring that there is distinct spatial layering between large open spaces such as the main atrium, and other smaller-scale spaces. The symmetrical arrangement of cores and vertical circulation maximize connectivity between operational facilities and exhibition spaces, whilst allowing for an even distribution of visitors throughout the building.”
Linking to the collection of the Neue Nationalgalerie, galleries containing art before 1945 are located below grade, allowing visitors to experience the collections of the two buildings seamlessly and coherently. Acknowledging the importance of the sequence established in the brief, the Sammlung-Marx and the Kupferstichkabinett are both located within the vicinity, ensuring that there is a clear organizational logic and chronological coherence throughout the display. Sited at ground level, the temporary exhibition gallery is located adjacent to the atrium, allowing the program of the exhibition to permeate the lobby during show openings, private viewings, and other events. Galleries containing art produced after 1945 are contained on the upper levels, flanking the northern and southern ends of the building. Bridging across these galleries, the Kunstbibliotek is conceived as an articulated architectural volume with its own distinct identity. It connects the levels above grade, spanning across the lobby atrium and functioning as a circulatory link that clarifies the sequence of spaces above grade. Suspended bridges along the sides of the Kunstbibliothek allow visitors to experience visual connections with the adjacent Kulturforum on the West and Stadtbibliotek on the East, heightening the experience of the site and tying the interior of the building with its greater urban context.
This vertically stacked sequence of art before and after 1945 is also reflected in the architecture of the building. Mediating the two distinct axes that define the voids of the atrium, perpendicular geometries are blended using carefully rationalized double-curvatures also known as Scherk surfaces. These ensure that the transition between perpendicular planes occurs seamlessly utilizing minimal amounts of material, whilst defining vaulted spaces for the exhibition of art and other ancillary visitor programs.
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURAL INTEGRATION
The landscape architectural design for the competition area responds to the complex, iconic nature of the Kulturforum while reinforcing the goals of the Museum of the 20th Century’s architectural design; providing inviting and contemplative spaces. Noting the site’s place at the heart of the Kulturforum, the landscape ensures the physical, circulatory connections and the visual, experiential connections between the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Philharmonie, the Staatsbibliothek, and the Kunstbibliothek.
A planting plan of 150 new oak and ginkgo species respect the presence of the existing Platanus tree and creates a rhythm extending from the Museum and St. Matthew‘s Church, marking the site as the green heart of the Kulturforum. Major axes are preserved and reinforced. Important views are framed and layered through careful placement of new trees. Below the new tree canopy, an open, flowing ground plane utilizes cobblestone paving iconic of Berlin’s most important public spaces. The design of the paving pattern suggests pedestrian movement through the building, emphasising the public and open nature of the museum design. Manipulations to the topography utilize the language of gentle curves established in the architectural design, activating the ground plane to provide diverse seating opportunities, platforms for the display of art, and newly articulated sight-lines.
The key feature of the landscape design is the lifting and marking of the forecourt of St. Matthew‘s Church to create a slightly elevated urban space within a canopy of Ginkgo trees; a celebration of the urban life of Berlin and an opportunity to enjoy nature. This raised landform mimics the shape and size of the architectural void found within the museum’s atrium. The elevation also allows for the insertion of the visitor center within the raised earth.
“The plaza becomes temple-like, echoing the language of St. Matthew‘s Church and the Museum itself. As a whole, the landscape for the Museum of the 20th Century will complement the architectural design, supplement the existing adjacent public spaces, and create a space worthy of Berlin’s rich cultural heritage.”
Client: Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation SPK
Bldg. Area: 23,423 m2
Status: International design competition
Architect: LUCA POIAN FORMS
Landscape Architect: David Zielnicki