The Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin – Architecture


The Neue Nationalgalerie, with its collection of 20th century European painting and sculpture up to the 1960’s, is just a short walk (or bus ride) along the canal from the Bauhaus Archive. Quite appropriate, really, as the building was designed by one of the Bauhaus’ Masters, and it’s last Director, Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe. It was his last work, which opened in 1968 not long before his death in August 1969. The building is very typical of his work – the upper pavilion a large open space with walls of glass that allow light to flood in.


Aerial view – Picture source Wikipedia

There are two floors to the building. The upper, glass clad pavilion raised on a granite platform above street level, accessible on three sides by flights of steps. The lower floor, where most of the art collection is displayed, is effectively underground, encased by the platform – only the rear, which overlooks the sculpture garden, with any windows.

The sides of the upper pavilion are 51.8 metres long enclosing an open area of 2,683 square metres. It consists of a square pre-stressed steel plate roof,1.8 meters thick and painted black supported by eight T shaped cruciform columns, two on each side, placed so as to avoid corners.


The curtain walls, made of glass in an unobtrusive metal frame, is not load bearing and allows light to flood inside. The design creates a massive internal space, which would be great for sculpture exhibitions and displaying large works, but the lack of walls means that it is not exactly ideal for exhibiting paintings. Hence they are on display downstairs.

The two large column like structures inside the pavilion are not load bearing and must be conduits for the various building services – electrical cables etc.


On the day we visited the upper storey was displaying sculpture from the 1800’s from the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (Friedrichswerder Church) which is currently undergoing restoration. They don’t really fit into the remit of a Modern Art Museum and weren’t really of interest to us. But I enjoyed experiencing being inside this massive, light, airy space.

At the back of the building, at street level, there’s a sculpture garden which looked very pleasant. And the sculptures on display, which we could see looking down from the podium were of more interest. However, it wasn’t accessible during our visit. I later discovered that access is only available by special request.


A number of Modern Art sculptures are displayed outside the pavilion on the platform, including works by Alexander Calder


Henry Moore


and Thomas Schütte.


The building is due to close in 2015 for three years for a major renovation, overseen by British architect, David Chipperfield, the designer of the Hepworth in Wakefield, and who has recently worked on the Neues Museum on the Museum Island in Berlin.


3 thoughts on “The Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin – Architecture

  1. One of my favourite buildings by my favourite architect.

    It’s a pity about the courtyard: I so wanted to go outside and explore. Apparently they are afraid that the flagstones will get ruined if too many people walk on them – a lame excuse, it seemed to me.

    They also don’t seem to get it right with the main space of the upper storey: those sculptures don’t fit inside this magnificent building, as you say. When we visited the whole space was empty, but the floor was covered by this awful, chintz-type carpet – an art work, apparently. It totally spoiled the effect of the minimalist interior.

    I was very disappointed to find out that the building will close for 3 years. I hope to visit Berlin soon, and not being able to visit the Neue Nationalgalerie would be unbearable.

    • I agree with you about the building. So simple but beautiful. A real example of “less is more”. And it is such a pity about the courtyard. We were able to look down on it from the back of the building but it would have been good to be able to get in among the sculptures. i wonder what the real reason is for restricting access.

      Seems a pity they can’t seem to find an appropriate use for the first floor. To me it would suit displaying large works, rather like the large sculptures that feature in exhibitions at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A large indoor space like this would really suit those large sculptures by Jame Plensa, for example.

      I think it only closes in 2015, so if you get to Berlin within the next year you should be able to visit.

      I hope to go back to the city again before too long.

  2. Pingback: The McNay Art Museum – Architecture | Down by the Dougie

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