Behind the James Simon Gallery Facade: Sophisticated Building Physics

The Hallway for Berlin's Museum Island was completed in December 2018

Finally, after almost ten years of planning, architect David Chipperfield handed over the keys to the new visitor center, which is named after the Jewish arts patron James Simon, to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation on December 13, 2018.

Exterior view of the James Simon Gallery, Berlin: © Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects.

Lightweight and minimalistic, yet open and inviting – such is the architectural design of the building on the bank of the Kupfergraben at the northern part of the Spree canal. In the future, it will be the new central entrance to the so-called Archaeological Promenade connecting the five exhibition buildings of the Museum Island, among them the Pergamon Museum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum, and will also serve for directing the numerous visitors.

After the official inauguration planned for summer 2019, the new entrance building including checkrooms, a museum shop and café with a total floor space of 4,600 m² will not only constitute the central entrance area to the other buildings for the expected two to three million museum visitors per year, but will also present temporary exhibitions in a large exhibition hall with an artificial luminous ceiling and house spectacular performances in an auditorium worth seeing.

Auditorium James Simon Gallery, Berlin: © Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects.

The lightweight, clearly structured and transparent architectural design more than offsets the obstacles that arose during construction. Due to an eluviation under the building site dating from the Ice Age, divers had to drive 1,200 piles into the ground for reinforcing the new building's foundations – even the former "Packhof" (customs warehouse complex) designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel was built on piles. One of the old piles – suspended from the ceiling – can now be admired in the passageway to the Neues Museum. With a tip like an oversized pencil, it had been driven into the muddy ground together with numerous other piles before the first buildings could be erected. Even nowadays, this method of reinforcing ground is common and was also used for constructing the James Simon Gallery.

Together with the architect and the structural engineer, Müller-BBM developed a specific sealing concept for the basement which is located in permanently pressing ground water. In addition to watertight concrete, the then relatively new construction method with a fresh-concrete composite film system was used for the special exhibition area. Since Müller-BBM developed sophisticated waterproofing details, the entire building complex could be realized in fairfaced concrete.

Upper foyer of the James Simon Gallery, Berlin: © Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects.

Furthermore, all aspects of the building physics consultancy, e.g. thermal insulation, building acoustics, room acoustics and noise control, were competently addressed. In particular, Müller-BBM performed climate and flow simulations with respect to thermal comfort and for achieving a constant indoor climate. In this connection, Müller BBM not only conducted flow simulations for optimizing the indoor climate control system and the positioning of air outlets while taking into account different exhibition concepts, but also performed analyses of the indoor climate variation in the foyer as well as of the climatic interactions given that there are no doors to the special exhibition areas.

The consultancy also focused on room acoustic simulations for the foyer and the auditorium. Due to the specific architectural design with fairfaced concrete, these areas required a room acoustic optimization. For example, the ideal arrangement of loudspeakers was addressed while taking into account the large fairfaced concrete surfaces and thus the limited acoustical treatment. Müller-BBM's experts also planned the interpreter booths – their size can be adjusted thanks to movable partition walls – in terms of building acoustics and room acoustics. For achieving the best possible sound insulation, the external staircase located on top of the auditorium was installed in an acoustically decoupled way.

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