The variety of measures taken to renovate the museum is not only based on the richness of architectural form this monument offers but on the multiple uses of the building. The Museum of Natural History and its scientific operation have developed more and more extensively and autonomously, which demanded a specific renovation and upgrading of their premises. The conditions under which researchers and curators were working were at long last to conform to current requirements, while the museum was to be enabled to design its exhibition on life, its origins, and development in a manner sure to appeal to the visitors. A visit to the Museum of Natural History, thus the challenge, was to become a unique experience.
In recent times, museums also grant their visitors access to the research done on their premises. On Invalidenstrasse, there has long been such a research track to follow through the exhibition. Periodic tours through the building and its scientific collections outside opening hours put those interested in the museum directly in contact with its ongoing research.
When we developed the concept needed to restructure the museum, we took into account the experience gleaned from these extraordinary visits to the museum.
Its uniqueness is not based on details, however, neither when contemplating Humboldt’s truly great collections, nor considering the fascinating aspects of contemporary research the in-house scientists pursue nor even on a dialogue between the researchers and the visitors. To us, the truly extraordinary aspect is the direct relationship the museum is able to show between its historical, scientific collection and its updating into a contemporary object of research. Both the building and the collection it houses are an architectural, historical, and scientific monument to its fascinating science to date. The reconstruction of the east wing of the museum, erected between 1885 and 1889 according to plans by August Tiede, which was destroyed during the war, is equally as well a collection-based, historical, and architectural task. Every single design aspect may only be explained by way of the other.
At the core of its internationally renowned zoological collection are the animal preparations. They are, however, sensitive to light and preserved wet in 276,000 glass containers; that is, in alcohol. The new east wing will house the entire collection. It is placed on transparent shelves on the ground floor, around which the visitors are led in order to grant them access to the containers from all sides. The air and humidity to store these extremely valuable preparations shall finally be conditioned in an optimum manner and the collection may now be structured in a way creating efficient preconditions for scientific work. For the first time ever, the exhibits of the wet collection will be visible to museum visitors, while still remaining utilizable for the scientists involved. The building surrounding them serves as a high, windowless archive with the workstations of the researchers above. In its radical concentration, the newly erected east wing will once again unfold the original impact of the museum as a structure within which the collection, research, and museum are inseparably tied together.
Only the tension between the scientific conditions linked to the east-wing programme and the urbanistic and architectural desire to once again fill the empty space in the very structure of this monument, caused us to design its highly particular shape.
The historical façade, cast in artificial stone and embedding the relief of the windows in the wall, will presumably irritate the viewing habits of the beholders. The reproduction cast in concrete is to stand as an independent element and bring to mind the entire façade, similar to Tierschicksale, a painting by Franz Marc damaged by a fire during its restoration, for which Klee complemented the destroyed shapes with achromatic additions.
This staging of the reconstruction radically confronts the two conflicting demands of museum and research with each other. The result is an edifice whose surfaces accurately absorb and continue the modulation of the architecture, brickwork, joins, sandstone, cut stone, and cladding; however also an edifice with a homogeneous building envelope and without a window opening made of artificial stone. To enable this, silicon moulds to cast the original façades were made. The resulting, cast-concrete parts replace the no longer existing elements of the façade. The old windows were bricked up; the new ones are closed by the artificial-stone element. The fragments of the largely destroyed building envelope and its concrete additions combine into the new façade. The overall appearance of the rebuilt wing remains marked by its history, destruction, and renewal.
The reconstruction of the Old Pinakothek in Munich by Hans Döllgast is a shining example of a reconstruction of destroyed buildings. It is an addition used as a basic design element of the edifice restricted to the essential parts of its structure and shell – restricted to the absolute necessary, that is – in order to render it once again usable. Its special quality is not only the structural realization of the idea to distinguish the added parts from the extant ones and thus avoid dissolving the very history of the building, but the design of the new and quite elementary parts that, thanks to this device, do not result in one of these disappointing vis-à-vis that, as a rule, are generated by the lack of patina of the reconstructed parts.
This effect of the new parts is what we strove for when reconstructing the east wing of the Berlin Museum of Natural History. Beyond this, there are however some different and even contrasting visions. Döllgast has the new parts remain in their raw, incomplete condition. This is a painful expression of the responsibility to refrain from remodelling history as reflected by the destruction the building suffered. This gesture of abstinence, of foregoing to finish the reconstruction, includes the possibility of a completion. In this point, the reconstruction of the museum in Berlin is different. In spite of the rather archaic appearance of the façade cast in concrete, this is not an approach based on an early version of the building and left incomplete. Rather, the new building is about the old one on the same site, recalling it by retracing it in concrete down to the profiled wooden slats. It does not reject but preclude it. That’s why its effect is quite different. In Munich, our line of sight is guided towards the construction. Even though more basic, the raw brick walls seem less abstract than the original, strictly neo-classical structure. It also represents an interest in a natural materiality presented bluntly and beyond any contrived, superimposed decoration.
In the wall cast from concrete, the structure of the building – that is, its original materiality and design – has become irrelevant. This may be the reason for the slightly disturbing effect of the new façade. It recalls the surrealist procedures of the visual arts, for instance Max Ernst’s frottages or rubbings on paper that reproduce the edges of the object underneath. In fact, we as architects for once did not design any façades as the process as such led to the design of the rebuilt east wing.
The cast relief has the actual façade shimmer through, without being able to repeat it though, as if something had been superimposed – not by any fast industrial action, but over a long period of time. The Alterswert (Alois Riegl, 1903) or age value, the experience of a monument and its history over time, which places the reconstruction in a sensual opposition to the extant monument, appears in the raw, archaic design of the concrete reliefs saved in another form and in synchronicity with the listed building.