Examining The Schinkels Altes Museum Architecture Essay


In the late 1790s, several influencial members of the Prussian government requested that a museum was to be built to house the royal collection that would constitute a valuable contribution to the state's cultural mission. Due to struggle with Napoleon and Prussia's defeat in 1806 with victory in 1813 at Leipzig, the project was delayed until 1822, when Architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel took on the project.

The Altes Museum was built between 1823 and 1830. It is one of the most important works in the architecture of Classicism. It has a lucidly ordered exterior and an interior structure of great precision after the Ancient Greek style, Schinkel pursued Humboldt's idea of the museum as an educational institution open to the public.

The Altes museum was originally built to house all of Berlin's art collections, it has accommodated the Collection of Classical Antiquities since 1904. Between 1943 and 1945 the building was severely damaged by fire. Reconstruction work continued up until 1966. Since 1998 the Collection of Classical Antiquities has displayed its Greek collection, including the treasury on the ground floor of the Altes Museum. The Egyptian Museum has, since August 2005, shown its collection on the upper floor where it will remain until it moves to the Neues Museum in 2009.

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Karl Friedrich Schinkel was associated with leading poets, philosophers, and statesmen of his day. Some of their discussions involved aesthetics and the purpose of art, which did more than influence him passively. He sought to apply such theories to his architectural work. 

The Altes Museum was intended to be simply an extension of the Royal Academy, but Schinkel insisted he wanted it to be an autonomous building sited at the northern end of the Lustgarten, opposite the palace. 

In order for this to occur, because of the building's intended size, a canal had to be filled in and a number of smaller buildings were removed to make way for the museum. It has been sited to face the palace and inserting it between the River Spree and a number of smaller buildings allowed him to accommodate the project's not so generous budget. Since only the museum's facade needed ornamentation worthy of such an eminent neighbor as the palace, the Konigliches Schloss.

The museum was located on axis with the palace and was adjacent to the cathedral and arsenal, giving it a central place among these three pillars of the Prussian state. It was to become a magnificent icon of it's time.

The museum's relations with the state only went so far, with the facade, significantly, bore an inscription acknowledging the king's leading cultural role, although the museum was in no sense an extension of the court or an expression of royal power.  The facade may have bore the king's name, but the building's interior was to belong to art and its public."

The Alter Museum appears a monumental masterpiece on the exterior, but not much can be said for it's interior. It is preserved by recognising the court's role in the cultural life of Prussian society, while simultaneously disallowing this acknowledgement of power from affecting the museum's internal logic. 

The building presents us with one face to the outside, while presenting another on the inside, reminiscent to the Janus symbol of one head with two faces, a double-edged sword, or the opposite sides of a coin.

Schinkel's museum attempts to suggest how art is connected to the world socially, culturally, and morally,within the context of the "three pillars of Prussian society," as symbolised by the palace, arsenal, and cathedral. In the Altes Museum, it is impossible to ignore the building's use of architectural forms traditionally reserved for religious buildings. The ground floor's center is called the rotunda, which is a direct reference to the Pantheon as well as the Museo Pio Clementino. 

Art history and Aesthetics developed simultaneously over the course of the 18th century. These formed the hierarchy for the Altes Museum.

The ground floor housed art from the ancient world, and the second floor contained paintings by period and style. Classical art was not arranged in any particular order, but was presented as one entity, it was not considered as another "period," although they were carefully arranged according to the contemporary precepts of art history. This distinction between classical and postclassical, assumes that classical art is timeless, ideal and foundational.

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The monumental order of the eighteen fluted ionic columns, the wide stretch of the atrium, and the rotunda is an explicit reference to the pantheon in Rome, and finally the grand staircase which are all architectural elements where up to this point, were reserved for stately buildings.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


Frank Lloyd Wright has described the design of this building in a number of letters to it's founder, Solomon R. Guggenheim, and in several statements made during the time of it's design and construction. Both Wright and Guggenheim died before they could see the museum completed. This particular museum is in a class of it's own. Featured in a number of famous Hollywood films for it's famous levels of circulation in a spiral form.

This particular distinctive building was Frank Lloyd Wright's last major work. From the street, the building looks approximately like a white ribbon curled into a cylindrical stack, it is slightly wider at the top than the bottom. It's appearance is in sharp contrast to the more typically boxy Manhattan buildings that surround it.

Internally, the viewing gallery forms a gentle helical spiral from the main level up to the top of the building. Paintings are displayed along the walls of the spiral and also in exhibition space found at annex levels along the way.This museum can be described as clean beautiful surfaces throughout the building, all beautifully proportioned to human scale. These surfaces are all lighted from above with natural daylight beaming down into the main foyer. A feature that many historic museums lacked in previous times and failed to accomplish so well.

This Museum seems to have an atmosphere of harmonious simplicity where human proportions are maintained in relation to the picture or painting on show. There is a fluid quiet created by the building's interior where the new painting will be seen for itself under it's favourable conditions, not conflicting with the building's interior making it the centre piece of attention.

The paintings are all situated in perfectly air conditioned chambers, essential to the preservation of these great pieces of art and sculptures. The walls of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and spaces, inside and outside, are one in substance and effect. The walls slant gently outward forming a giant spiral for a well defined purpose. One can view this as a new unity between beholder, painting and architecture.

The pictures are inclined, faced slightly upward to the viewer and to the light in accord with the upward sweep of the spiral, the paintings themselves are emphasised as features in themselves and are not hung 'square' but gracefully yield to movement as set up by these slightly curving massive walls. In a great upward sweep of movement the picture is seen framed as a feature of architecture.

The flat plane of the picture detached by the curve of the wall is presented to view much as a jewel set as a signet ring. Precious as itself, unique in it's identity. Slightly tilted curving away of the walls against which the pictures are placed not only presents no difficulty but facilitates viewing, the wide curvature of the main walls is a positive asset to the painting.

The gentle upward, or downward, sweep of the main spiral-ramp itself serves to make visitors more comfortable by their very descent along the spiral, viewing the various exhibits. The elevator is doing the lifting, the visitor the drifting from alcove to alcove. The diameter of the spiral increases as it ascends so that the depth of the chambers is as a result greater at the upper levels. The partitions between the chambers act as bearing walls.

Criticism of the building has focused on the idea or presumption that it overshadows the artworks displayed within, and the apparent difficulty to properly hang paintings in the shallow windowless exhibition niches that surround the central spiral. Despite the rotunda generously being lit by the large skylight, the niches are heavily shadowed by the walkway itself, leaving the art to be lit largely by artificial lighting.

The walls of these niches are neither vertical nor flat with most being gently concave, meaning that canvasses are being mounted proud of the wall's surface. Limited space within the niches mean that sculptures are generally relegated to plinths amid the main spiral walkway itself. Prior to the Museum's Grand Opening, twenty-one artists, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, signed a letter protesting the display of their work in such a space. Although there was criticism towards Frank Lloyd Wright's design of the Museum, it was deemed controversial. There were also fans of his design who admired and cherised the museum for what it was.

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"Wright's great swansong, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York, is a gift of pure architecture - or rather of sculpture. It is a continuous spatial helix, a circular ramp that expands as it coils vertiginously around an unobstructed well of space capped by a flat-ribbed glass dome. A seamless construct, the building evoked for Wright, the quiet unbroken wave." Spiro Kostof. A History of Architecture, Settings and Rituals. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. p740.

"Entering into the spirit of this interior, you will discover the best possible atmosphere in which to show fine paintings or listen to music. It is this atmosphere that seems to me most lacking in our art galleries, museums, music halls and theaters." Frank Lloyd Wright. "Frank Lloyd Wright", The Architectural Forum, January, 1948, Vol 88 Number 1. p89.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has become a cultural icon and can be seen widely throughout popular culture. It is featured in Matthew Barney's The Cremaster Cycle, Bye Bye Birdie, Men in Black, When in Rome, Downtown 81, and prominently in The International, where a major shootout occurs in the museum. In fact a life size replica of the museum was built for this scene. The New Yorker magazine has included the museum multiple times on its cover and in various cartoons.

Berlin's Judisches Museum (Jewish Museum) September 2001

In one of the world's biggest genocide's ever before seen in history, WWII was a dark unstable era. From the German Nazi camps to the gas chambers of a very grim world, human beings were being cattled like animals from camp to camp, starved enough to die from hunger due to lack of food and water or forced into the chambers of death, only to be suffocated by the belief of a Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler. This was the Jewish Genocide.

Berlin's Judisches Museum (Jewish Museum is housed in a remarkable modern building designed by Daniel Libeskind. The museum was opened in September 2001. Some say it was shaped a bit like the Star of David and containing bizarre angles to symbolise the Holocaust, the Judisches Museum is the largest and most unique Jewish museum in Europe. It takes you back in time sending a chill down your spine giving you a sense of what really happened back then in the holocaust.

The circumstances of the museum's foundation and the collections it is based on, the people who have directed its development can be found here as well as personalities of public life who are dedicated to the intercultural understanding of the Jewish Museum's and pHYPERLINK "http://www.jmberlin.de/main/EN/04-About-The-Museum/05-Prize-UT/00-award_ceremony.php"rize for understanding and tolerance.

Like in any other new structure built whether it being a church, museum, hospital or home, numerous views and opinions where expressed in relation to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Visitors had seen Libeskind's new building as either a "spectacular"or"normal" museum. It was recognised as a deconstructivist masterpiece, a groundbreaking creation, with it's intellectuality in the form of a house, or even an exhibit in its own right. Daniel Libeskind placed great emphasis on people's perceptions of the building and these are formed day after day.

The museum's modern architectural elements of the Libeskind building comprise of the zinc facade, the Garden of Exile, the three Axes of the German-Jewish experience, and the Voids. Together these pieces form a visual and spatial language rich with history and symbolism. Not only do they house the museum with it's exhibits, but they also provide visitors with their own unique experience as they walk through the spaces, taking them back in time almost like a time capsule, being able to understand what the museum is trying to portray and what story it is trying to tell.

The new building of the museum is best described as Zig-zag. The design is based on two linear structures which when combined, form the body of the building. The first line is a winding one with several kinks while the second line cuts through the whole building. At the intersections of these lines, there are empty spaces otherwise known as "Voids". These voids rise vertically from the ground floor of the building up to the roof. Daniel Libeskind imagines the continuation of both lines throughout the city of Berlin and beyond. Almost like a destructive train line travelling through europe not knowing where it's going to end up.

"An irrational and invisible matrix" (Daniel Libeskind, 1995)

The facade of the Jewish museum barely enables a conclusion to be drawn in regards to the building's interior. Neither levels nor rooms become apparent to the observer. The positioning of the windows are primarily narrow slits that follow a precise matrix. They are also based on a network of connections. During the design process, architect, Daniel Libeskind plotted the addresses of prominent Jewish and German citizens on a map of pre-war Berlin and joined the points to form an "irrational and invisible matrix" in which he based the language of form, geometry and the shape of the building.

The New Building is coated in zinc, a material that has a long tradition in Berlin's architectural history. It consists of untreated alloy and titanium with zinc that will oxidize and change color through exposure to light and weather over the years.

A Void "is not really a museum space." (Daniel Libeskind, 1999)

Voids represent a central structural element in the New Building and form the connection to the Old Building. In the Old Building, there is a staircase that leads down to the basement through a Void of bare concrete which joins the two buildings together.

Five voids run vertically through the New Building. They have walls of bare concrete, they are not heated or air-conditioned and also hardly any artificial light, they are quite separate from the rest of the building. The upper levels of the exhibition, the Voids are clearly visible with black exterior walls.

The Museum's Voids refer to "that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes." (Daniel Libeskind, 2000)

In the museum there are also underground passageways that link the Old Building with the Libeskind Building. These passageways have no official entrance. There is a path system as you pass by the great void made of three axes symbolising three realities in the history of German Jews.

The first and longest of these axes is the "Axis of Continuity." This axes connects the Old Building with the main staircase otherwise known as the Sackler Staircase which leads up to the exhibition levels. Daniel Libeskind describes the Axis of Continuity as a continuation of Berlin's history, it is the connecting path from which the other two axes branch off.

The Garden of Exile attempts "to completely disorient the visitor. It represents a shipwreck of history." (Daniel Libeskind, 1999)

The second of the axis is the "Axis of Emigration" which leads outside to daylight and to the Garden of Exile. On the journey to this great garden, the museum walls are slightly slanted and close into eachother, almost symbolising a path of destruction that plagued the past of german history. The floor is uneven and ascends gradually. A heavy door must be opened before the crucial step into the garden can be taken. Almost a portrayal in fighting your way through hell to get to heaven, making the jouney that worth while. Or is it ?

The Garden of Exile is reached after leaving the axes. The whole garden is on a 12° gradient and disorients visitors, giving them a sense of the total instability and lack of orientation which was experienced by those who were driven out of Germany. Russian willow oak that grew on top of pillars in the garden symbolised hope.

The third of axis's is the "Axis of the Holocaust" which is basically a dead end. This axis becomes narrower and darker and ends at the Holocaust Tower. Glass cases on the way display documents and personal possessions devulging to the private and public life of their owners who were killed. These three underground axes symbolise the connection between the three realities of Jewish life in Germany.

The new Glass Courtyard at the Jewish Museum in Berlin was built from a design titled "Sukkah" which is Hebrew for thatched booth, by Daniel Libeskind. This glass courtyard is the second extension to the museum. The structure itself consists features of the New Building with its shiny silver facade and the Old Building, it is a successful synthesis of old and new. This combination is strengthened by the further addition of the Glass Courtyard to the ensemble. The light flooded Glass Courtyard has its own distinctive feel. While the Libeskind Building's zig-zag form is a metaphorical reference to destruction of German-Jewish history, the Sukkah theme is one of social gathering appropriate for a courtyard.

There is also the new glass roof that covers the U-shaped courtyard at about 670m² in size. It is supported by four freestanding bundles of steel pillars. It portrayed the structure of a tree which was the main inspiration for creating the supporting pillars, which extend into the roof forming a steel network.

The integration of the Glass Courtyard with the existing Old Building posed an architectonic challenge. This glass construction does not outplay the Old Building, the landmarked Collegienhaus which was erected in 1735, in scale and appearance stands proud an independent to the new building.

The Glass Hall was a complex building project, interelating the old museum with the new Jewish museum. It was deemed unconventional for both construction and materials used. Due to the expressive and asymmetrical geometry in Libeskind's design, it presented enornmous challenges to those involved in the construction process, such as the structural engineers and facade planners involved.

Steel being used for such a project was also very unusual to them as well. They were used to steel that normally supported construction with right-angled or curved geometry. In the Glass Courtyard it formed branches and treetops. Almost like painting picture out of steel.

Metal alloy steel, out of all materials used, demonstrated one of the most unconventional uses of steel in contemporary architecture. Four branching steel bundles each consisted of three steel pillars with the rough estimated diameter of a tree. Their function is primarily static, also in the case of fire, they contain media cables within, offering some protection to the cables. The roof girders were assembled and bolted together onsite at the building site at roof height. The weight of the pillars weighed up to six tons each and the roof girder sections weighed up to eight tons each, a crane had to be formed that withstood a bearing capacity of 200 tons necessary.

The Glass Courtyard now provides the museum with space for a variety of events, such as educational workshops, concerts, theatrical performances, and receptions for up to five hundred people.

It also serves to extend the museum's entrance area and thereby improves the regulation of visitor flow and circulation.The new room is located a few steps way from the main entrance and it's existing infrastructure. It includes cloakrooms, ticket counters, and the museum restaurant. To date over four million people have visited the Jewish Museum. It is well know for it's diverse cultural and educational programs. The Glass Courtyard provides a suitable and architecturally appealing solution, which will enable this vibrant development of the museum to continue in the future.

In conclusion the Altes Museum is a typical example of classical architecture which date back from Ancient Greece and the Rome Empire. It signifies a sense of formality and power amongst the people of it's time. Royalty and size of structures were more common in those times rather then smartly designed structures that could achieve the same purpose.

Such structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, although very large in scale, it was a building designed after the turn of the century, that sparked controversy and disbelief that something of that scale and facade could be built in a congested city environment. It was considered fantasy rather then a reality. It was built and it achieved the same purpose as the Altes Museum in Berlin, but it was designed better and more cleverly incorporating the use of natural light throughout the whole structure and the use of "continuity" in circulation, which made the design one of the world's most prominent buildings.

Following on from such a magnificent structure in New York, we come back to Berlin, where Berlin followed a similar approach in redesigning and extending New Jewish Museum. No one ever thought that something of so significant in history could be reinvented in a way where it takes people back in time to the hurt and pain of Nazi Germany. This museum was created in such a way that it completely blew away the traditional approach of a museum. The building's special features that include spiraling walls, sloping floors, a windowless Holocaust Tower, and symbolic lines of windows that resemble wounds. When it comes to the Holocaust, a design approach such as this one, executed perfectly, cannot come up, close and personal as this remarkable museum.