When a Star Architect Wants You Not to See His Work

It is quite a circle to square. Having left Nazi Germany for the United States in 1937, Mies was courted by West Berlin in the early 1960s to build something uplifting in the divided city. He chose to build a museum. The upper deck of the New National Gallery became the largest and most uncompromising of Mies’s pavilion-style designs — an open floor plan, no interior columns, walls of little more than glass. It would be used for temporary exhibitions; a cosier lower floor would house the permanent collection.


The restoration project is expected to take five years in total, and is half completed.

Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Unfortunately for Mr. Chipperfield, the aging Mies — he died in 1969, a year after the gallery opened — put his sense of mission before the laws of physics (and warnings from city planners). The single-glazed facade, held upright by delicate window frames, proved unsuited to Berlin’s cold winters and hot summers. The humidity demanded by the artworks led to condensation on the inside of the glass, and the expansion and contraction of all that metal cracked one huge pane after another.

“Mies took architecture to its extreme,” Mr. Chipperfield said. “And as a result, the building has some… let’s not call them flaws — it has some challenges, which we’ve had to address.” In a more conventional and pliable building, he said, an architect could solve a condensation problem by simply putting more insulation in the walls. “But with Mies, there’s no place to hide.”

Knowing that Mies had left him no choice but to tackle the competing claims of preservation and performance head on, Mr. Chipperfield and his team drew inspiration from their feted restoration of Berlin’s 19th-century Neues Museum, between 2003 and 2010. Mr. Chipperfield’s startling part-preservation, part-reinterpretation of this…

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