David Chipperfield-designed James-Simon-Galerie opens on Museum Island in Berlin

View of the James-Simon-Galerie across a river.
View of David Chipperfield Architects’ James-Simon-Galerie from Schlossbrücke.
(Image credit: Simon Menges)

Berlin’s Museum Island on the River Spree welcomes a new addition – the James-Simon-Galerie designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which officially opens to the public on 12 July. The new building serves as a visitors’ centre for all five museums on the island, providing direct access to the Pergamon Museum (home to such treasures as the Ishtar Gate and the Pergamon Altar) and the Neues Museum (home to the Egyptian collection, including that iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti).

The primary function of the James-Simon-Galerie, explains Urs Vogt, Chipperfield’s project architect, ‘is to take the load of mass tourism’ and accommodate a projected peak rate of 10,000 visitors per day. Its other function is as a 24/7 public space. Hence, the architects pushed the technical functions of the building down into the basement, leaving the top as a ‘landscape, which connects views from the city to the island and back the other way’.

A close-up of the building with slender pillars on its perimeter.

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

The modern building is rooted in its context – a long colonnade of slender pillars on top of the building is a stripped-down echo of the extensive 19th-century colonnades designed by Friedrich August Stüler on the rest of the island. Its visual dominance underscores the structure’s role as a simultaneously functional, connective and public space.

With its monolithic exterior of precast, sandblasted concrete and aggregate of local marble and sand, the building appears simple, but hides its own structural complexity. The island is basically a swamp and the entire building is sitting on 1,200 micropiles up to 50m long.

The architecture guides visitors from the glazed café area to the shop and cloakrooms, into the basement to the 300-seat auditorium, 650 sq m shared exhibition space, and the underground entrances to the future ‘archaeological promenade’ due for completion in 2025/26. ‘You can walk through the whole building without actually opening a door, except for the auditorium – everything is open,’ says Vogt.

The full version of this story appeared in the July 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*244)

A side-on view of two buildings that are connected to each other. On the left, the Connection with Pergamon museum which has large pillars in grey. On the right, a white building with slender pillars and a stair case leading up to the upper level.

Connection with Pergamon museum. 

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

The building has a white fascia at the lower level and a row of tall slender pillars at the next level up.

Plinth and tall colonnade.

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

The James-Simon-Galerie at street level. The name appears on a white block wall and the side-walk is covered.

Street level colonnade. 

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

A view inside the building with an open corridor on the left, the main staircase in the centre leading down to the lower level.

Main internal staircase.

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

The white exterior staircase leading to street level.

Grand staircase, view towards ‘Lustgarten’.

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

Street level view of the main entrance. The building all white with a grand staircase in the centre and a left section with tall slender pillars.

View towards the main entrance.

(Image credit: Simon Menges)

Looking up from bottom to top in a 13 row auditorium with with black seats.


(Image credit: Simon Menges)