Balanced Massiveness – the Neue Nationalgalerie

by Patricija Bijazic

For my critique I decided to write about Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) at the Kulturforum, a collection of cultural buildings in Berlin, located near Potsdamer Platz.  With its museums, libraries, and concert halls, the Kulturforum is one of Germany’s leading sites of art, culture, and learning. The reason why I chose Neue Nationalgalerie is that I consider it very interesting, but at the same time it is so huge and empty – despite the fact that it is actually an important museum for modern art.


The Neue Nationalgalerie is divided into two distinct stories. The upper story (or floor) serves as an entrance hall as well as the primary special exhibit gallery, with really lot of space inside. The outside looks like the inside – there’s not a lot to see.  It is elevated from street level and only accessible by three flights of steps. Though it only comprises a small portion of the total gallery space, the exhibition pavilion stands boldly as the building’s primary architectural expression. Eight cruciform columns, two on each length placed so as to avoid corners, support a square pre-stressed steel roof plate pretty thick and painted black.    The lower story serves primarily as space for the gallery’s permanent collection, though it also includes a library, offices, a shop and a café. In total it comprises a very big space – surprisingly, as it’s not so easy for people to spot that something is downstairs at all.

The Neue Nationalgalerie was created by the famous architect Mies Van der Rohe in 1968. Basically he’s one of the fathers of Modern Architecture. His style feels quite cold to me, and we can see a lot of simplicity in his design. I’ve read an article that states that Mies tried to express the nature of the 20th century industrial society through his architecture. That could explain the rigidity, coldness and anonymity that I feel while I’m looking at the Neue Nationalgalerie. In a way I think that he might wanted to express the feeling that people are much colder than in pre-industrial times, and that today’s society is not thinking about art the same way as they used to.

Everything is kind of balanced in his project. The window frames seem to link the roof to the floor. Although it is a big and massive building, thanks to that design we have a feeling that the architect wants to connect the sky to the the earth.

Neue Nationalgalerie

From the outside the Neue Nationalgalerie really looks like a boxy building with no role just because of its massiveness. Somehow it seems like an alien at that place. It’s a really nice idea to make it a place of cultural content and a place for cultural enrichment, but from my point of view, the massiveness of the building gets in the way of success – or at least it’s not a key to success. I would say that there are more important factors to the success of a museum, and it shows that there is still something missing, something that could attract people to come and visit the gallery and exhibitions.  I came to the conclusion that this kind of modernity may be a bit too much for a city like Berlin.


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