“Gentle” is how Alexander Schwarz, design director of David Chipperfield’s Berlin studio, describes the impact of Am Kupfergraben 10 on its historic surroundings. The gallery, for a private art collector, stands alongside a canal opposite Museum Island, in the heart of Berlin, where Chipperfield has been working since 1998.
The British practice’s masterplan for this heritage site includes the restoration of the 19th-century Neues Museum, across the canal from the gallery. “We can say that Am Kupfergraben 10 is learning from the fabric of the Neues Museum,” says Schwarz. The facade has been covered in bricks that were recycled from barns of the same period and previously used by the Soviet army. The bricks were pointed and rendered in slurry, giving the walls a slightly abstract quality, while the untreated timber used for the window frames is expected to weather in a particular way. “The materials used on its exterior are about the capacity to age,” says Schwarz.
Two early decisions established the final form of the three-storey structure: one was to continue the height of the neighbouring buildings and the other was to have large windows opening onto the surroundings. “The idea was to make well-proportioned, beautifully lit spaces – if they are beautiful, then they will be good exhibition spaces too,” says Schwarz. Each floor is one continuous room with a generous ceiling height. The gallery owners invited Frank Gehry and Peter Zumthor, among other architects, to submit proposals, but Chipperfield’s design was preferred for its willingness to establish a dialogue with the area’s heritage while avoiding the traps of historicism.
images Jörg von Bruchhausen