James Simon Gallery

08.11.2019

The Museum Island is one of the most important sights in Berlin. Five different museums show objects and works of art about the evolution of humanity. Now the newly opened James Simon Gallery complements the ensemble: the long-awaited building is the central access to the magnificent collections.

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The James Simon Gallery - Highlight on the Museum Island. Source: Simon Menges/David Chipperfield Architects

Nearly three million visitors flock every year to the Museum Island, the approximately one square kilometer island in the Spree. Here you will find five different museums whose collections cover early history up to the 19th century. Built between 1830 and 1930, each one is an architecturally independent building. And all recently have been or will be renovated and modernized.  

The architecture of the James Simon Gallery

The master plan, which was approved in 1999, unites all the art houses into a contemporary museum district. At the same time, the historically grown ensemble of architecture and art is preserved. The central element is the entrance building designed by architects David Chipperfield Architects. The planners faced the task of architecturally embedding the building and at the same time laying numerous functions in the new building. 

A very elegant structure has been created that fills the narrow gap between the Kupfergraben and the Neues Museum, that the Architecture Office renovated ten years ago. Until 1938, the new packing yard of Karl Friedrich Schinkel stood on the ground. The slender columns of the Chipperfield building now continue the colonnade of Friedrich August Stüler, which originally ended in the New Museum. Thus, a new small courtyard was created behind the colonnade between the New Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the James Simon Gallery. 

With its high pedestal, the gallery takes up the architecture of the neighboring Pergamonmuseum. A large flight of steps on the south side finally turns the gallery into the new entrance, through which visitors can reach the Museum Island. Above ground into the Pergamon Museum, underground via the Archaeological Promenade to the Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum. The James Simon Gallery complements the existing current entrances to the collections.

Important functions as a central entrance

The building takes on many public functions: a generous foyer contains information and there are ticket counters, a cafeteria and a large connected terrace. The mezzanine has a museum shop, cloakroom, toilets and lockers. The basement houses temporary exhibition rooms and an auditorium with seating for around 230. The public area of Museum Island is also getting bigger, as large parts of the building are accessible to the general public outside of the opening hours. 

The gallery bears the name of one of the most important patrons of Berlin: at the beginning of the 20th century, James Simon bequeathed his art collections and excavation results to the "Staatliche Museen zu Berlin". Since July 2019, the entrance building is open to visitors.

The original German version of this text was published on the "Senkrechtstarter-Blog".