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Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany

Issue 59 Feb / Mar 2011 : Retail : Museum

LIGHTING DESIGN: Kardorff Ingenieure Lichtplanung ARCHITECT: David Chipperfield Architects, London/Berlin in collaboration with Julian Harrap Architects

After more than a decade of restoration at the hands of RIBA Gold Medalist David Chipperfield, the Neues Museum has been brought back to life. Kardorff Ingenieure’s scheme balances natural daylight, artificial light and the needs of a major conservation project

Built around 1850 and badly bomb-damaged a century later, Berlin’s Neues Museum was for many years a derelict reminder of the past; one of the many grand scars scattered across the city. Though other sites were patched up and in some cases replaced by striking contemporary structures, the Neues Museum remained a neglected victim of financial and political factors.

Even when the will was found to undertake restoration work, there remained uncertainty over how to proceed. Should it be a faithful reconstruction of the original architecture by Friedrich August Stüler or was it better to re-imagine the building for the 21st century? The debate was decided in 1997 when British architect David Chipperfield - working in collaboration with restoration specialist Julian Harrap Architects - was awarded the task of bringing the museum back to life.

His scheme resolved to give the structure back its original shape, retaining any remaining sections of Stüler’s design and filling any gaps with contemporary - but sympathetic - solutions. Where whole sections of the building had been lost, simple, modern rooms would be created to replace them. It was the first step on the Neues Museum’s painstaking road to recovery.

When lighting designers Kardorff Ingenieure began creating their concept in 2000, the museum was still a long way from completion. With ten years of work still to come, the building’s broken bones gave only a glimpse of what the team would eventually be given to illuminate. With no complete structure from which to take light readings, Kardorff Ingenieure embarked on an intensive process of 3D modelling and mock-up tests to find an appropriate solution for the structure.

Using the 3D model, the team were able to produce a film, virtually walking the viewer through the museum under a series of simulations that showed the effects of the sun light at different times of the year.
As the museum was originally built to be illuminated solely by daylight, Kardorff Ingenieure set out to find the optimal balance between, on the one hand, retaining the beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding Museum Island and, on the other, only allowing acceptable levels of natural light into the space. After a two-year trial, it was decided that specially perforated sun shading screens and anti-glare shields could be used to reduce the light transmission to a minimum (4%). Despite this reduction, the contrast between the dark colour of the screen and the space outside, together with the screens’ special perforation design, ensure both the view and the rooms’ airy, daylit feel are retained.

The museum’s grand staircase is one of the most striking examples of the museum’s reconditioned sections - following Stüler’s original layout while avoiding a straight reconstruction of the old décor. The room’s impressive, six-metre high windows are fitted with the dark green sun screens that can be retracted from top to bottom as required – making the most of the available daylight.

Artificial lighting had to be added in the ceiling space 25 metres above the stairs. In order to achieve an even illumination onto the walls, the performance of the reflectors was calculated in twelve light simulations. The specially designed fittings that resulted use metal halide lamps (each with 2-4 x 35W) because of their high lumen output ratio and the maintenance factor. An integrated winch system allows each light element to be lowered to the ground when access is required.

Lighting throughout the new sections of the building has been recessed into prefabricated slots. In some cases these also incorporate other technical elements like loudspeakers into a single, uniform design element.

In the areas where the original architectural detail had been retained, the placement of artificial light fixtures was a major issue for the team. With such a wide variety of spaces to illuminate, each with their own special restoration and conservation needs, Kardorff Ingenieure had to create a series of customised luminaires - over 100 in total. In each case, the aim was to harmonise artificial lighting with the various daylight conditions in the different exhibition rooms. Security and guard lights were also integrated into the general lighting to minimise visual clutter.

The design of the fittings is technically driven, without any decorative pretentions. Specially designed luminaires retain their unapologetic box shape - mostly with bronze housings, adapted to the material chosen by David Chipperfield.

In many areas where conservation restrictions precluded direct wall and ceiling mounting, ERCO’s Hi-trac was used to span gaps and bridge columns to minimise structural intrusion. Its lightweight structure is able to support heavy loads and allows for a wide spacing between the suspension points. Majolikasaal gallery is a good example of this technique. A structure that was highly innovative for its day, using steel arches and lightweight vaulting, had come to light beneath the irreparable damage of the original decoration. The lighting with Hi-trac track and Parscan spotlights fit easily with the aesthetics of these galleries.

The museum’s two wings each enclose a courtyard space covered by a double-layer glass roof. It was obvious to the team that the definition of the glass material for the roofs was a vital aspect of the lighting concept for these spaces.

The daytime character of the Griechischer Hof (Greek Courtyard) is dominated by a clear glass roof that allows direct, high contrast sunlight to fall on the art below. Both light intensity and direction change over the course of the day and throughout the year, creating dramatic variations in appearance. In addition to this, the exhibits, sculptures and bas-reliefs, are lit with projectors (with 150W metal halide lamps) mounted between the two layers of the roof.

Consequently, it is possible to perceive the very subtle contours of the bas-relief. Shutters on the projectors ensure only the relief is illuminated and light cones are avoided.

The use of opaque glass over the Ägyptischer Hof (Egyptian Courtyard) creates a more muted daylight atmosphere. Here, the glass quality of the new double-layered roof was decided after a series of tests in an existing roof at the Pergamon Museum nearby. The team studied glass elements with various diffuser qualities together with different spotlights placed within the space between the two roof layers. They found that a diffuse glass with a light transmission of 71% (second roof with clear glass, LT =50% in total), together with specially designed floodlights (150W metal halide lamps) at a distance of 40cm from the lower roof, performed best. The system achieved a clear formation of shadows on the objects situated on a platform fourteen metres below.

The movable fittings are installed onto four tracks set above the lower layer of the glass roof. Floodlights on the two outer tracks are directed in an angle of about 15° onto bas-reliefs mounted on the wall in the storey below the platform.

Undoubtedly the museum’s biggest Egyptian treasure, the ancient bust of Queen Nefertiti sits on its own behind bulletproof glass in the Nordkuppelsaal. A ring of carefully focused spotlights mounted along the cornice around the perimeter of the room ensure the bust is perfectly illuminated from six carefully defined angles.

Though there may have been some voices of dissent when Chipperfield’s plan was first revealed, the relentless queues outside the museum during its first year back in service seem proof that this new ‘New Museum’ has struck a chord with the public. The architectural world, too, seem impressed. Chipperfield was awarded German Architect’s Association triennial prize for the project - itself a small part of an impressive body of work that has earned Chipperfield RIBA’s prestigious Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. For Kardorff Ingenieure too the project has garnered significant attention with the museum shortlisted for the 2011 Lighting Design Awards.

While Kardorff Ingenieure’s work is finished, Chipperfield’s time in Berlin is not over yet; placed in charge of the masterplan for the whole of Museum Island – a scheme that aims to connect all five of historic museums with an underground walkway and add a new entrance building for the whole island - he will remain with an eye on the area until its completion, expected in 2015.

Project Details
Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany

Architect: David Chipperfield Architects, London / Berlin in collaboration with Julian Harrap Architects

Client: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, represented by das Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Lighting Design: Kardorff Ingenieure Lichtplanung

Exhibition concept: Michele de Lucchi

Photographs: Linus Lintner, Kardorff Ingenieure and ERCO

Lighting Specified

Selux - Exhibition lighting for areas with new ceilings, security lighting Greek Courtyard, lighting for circulation areas and restrooms, administration area
Interferenz - general lighting and exhibition lighting with custom designed fittings for exhibition areas with new ceilings
RSL - general lighting for stair hall, staircase to level 0, Exhibition lighting below platform Egyptian Courtyard (in all areas motorised lifts for custom fittings)
ERCO - general lighting and Exhibition lighting throughout project including spotlight (mainly in historical reconstructed exhibition areas)
ETC - Exhibition lighting Greek Courtyard

BEGA - stairs level 0
Bolich - Maintenance Lighting Egyptian Courtyard
Derksen - projection Hypostil
Louis Poulsen - Emergency staircases and administration area
Lumatec - Emergency signs throughout project
RZB - Administration area


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