BERLIN — “We’re like surgeons round a physique,” stated David Chipperfield as he checked out Berlin’s New Nationwide Gallery. The constructing, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of many 20th century’s biggest architects, was virtually as naked because it had been at its topping-out ceremony, in April 1967. The British architect and his lieutenant, Martin Reichert, a associate in his sizable Berlin workplace, surveyed the soiled metal body and uncovered concrete partitions atop weed-strewn sand. “We’ve opened him up and now we’re him.’”

Since Mr. Chipperfield, 63, final visited the positioning 5 months earlier than, Mr. Reichert and a staff of 10 architects had completed taking aside the innards of Mies’s monumental constructing, a temple-like house sheathed by glass partitions and topped with a mighty metal roof. Some 35,000 items — together with 14,000 granite slabs, three,500 lighting fixtures, and one Mies-designed ashtray — awaited cleansing and buffing up. The constructing itself shall be labored on to repair issues attributable to age, in addition to some which have plagued it since delivery.

“It’s like an previous man, bare aside from socks,” Mr. Chipperfield stated to Mr. Reichert, half amused, half shocked. The 2 had been surveying their handiwork midway by way of a 5-12 months restoration challenge, Miesian in its consideration to element and German in its underpublicized ambition. The objective is to reopen the New Nationwide Gallery’s beautiful assortment of Modernist artwork in 2020 in a constructing that may work higher than it did, however feel and appear completely untouched. It's in marked distinction to his deliberate design for New York’s Metropolitan Museum — currently delayed — which might have reworked the constructing with a entire new wing for contemporary and up to date artwork.

The New Nationwide Gallery challenge is budgeted at 100 million euros (about $118 million) however, like a Mies constructing, reveals its daring solely at second or third look. Mr. Chipperfield desires this 50-year-previous gallery, as delicate as it's monumental, to carry out in addition to essentially the most trendy, assiduously local weather-managed and thoroughly lit museum — with none customer noticing that he was ever there. He's making an attempt to overcome the basic contradiction between the will to protect the previous and the stress to elevate a constructing’s efficiency to up to date requirements.

“As a constructing, the New Nationwide Gallery in all probability has extra authentic Mies left in it than every other Mies constructing on this planet, however as an artwork museum, the New Nationwide Gallery has to meet the very best trendy constructing requirements,” stated Kerstin Wittmann-Englert, an architectural historian at Berlin’s Technical College. She stated she might consider few different initiatives wherein the calls for of preservation and efficiency diverged so sharply, and on such a scale. “Chipperfield is, in a manner, making an attempt to sq. that circle.”

It's fairly a circle to sq.. Having left Nazi Germany for the US in 1937, Mies was courted by West Berlin within the early 1960s to construct one thing uplifting within the divided metropolis. He selected to construct a museum. The higher deck of the New Nationwide Gallery turned the most important and most uncompromising of Mies’s pavilion-fashion designs — an open ground plan, no inside columns, partitions of little greater than glass. It will be used for momentary exhibitions; a cosier decrease ground would home the everlasting assortment.

Sadly for Mr. Chipperfield, the ageing Mies — he died in 1969, a 12 months after the gallery opened — put his sense of mission earlier than the legal guidelines of physics (and warnings from metropolis planners). The only-glazed facade, held upright by delicate window frames, proved unsuited to Berlin’s chilly winters and scorching summers. The humidity demanded by the artworks led to condensation on the within of the glass, and the growth and contraction of all that metallic cracked one big pane after one other.

“Mies took structure to its excessive,” Mr. Chipperfield stated. “And as a outcome, the constructing has some… let’s not name them flaws — it has some challenges, which we’ve had to tackle.” In a extra standard and pliable constructing, he stated, an architect might clear up a condensation drawback by merely placing extra insulation within the partitions. “However with Mies, there’s no place to cover.”

Figuring out that Mies had left him no alternative however to sort out the competing claims of preservation and efficiency head on, Mr. Chipperfield and his staff drew inspiration from their feted restoration of Berlin’s 19th-century Neues Museum, between 2003 and 2010. Mr. Chipperfield’s startling half-preservation, half-reinterpretation of this badly struggle-broken constructing was key in touchdown him the fee for the New Nationwide Gallery.

When they began work on the Neues Museum, Mr. Chipperfield and his staff dealt individually with the assorted events — most notably the Berlin Heritage Conservation Authority, which was thinking about preservation, and the Neues Museum curators, who wished a constructing that carried out as a trendy museum ought to. “We had been in numerous rooms preventing with completely different folks about completely different points,” Mr. Chipperfield stated. “I simply received fed up with that and stated, let’s all sit in the identical room and clear up all the pieces collectively.”

This collaborative methodology turned key for the New Nationwide Gallery. All sides shortly agreed that the facade wanted delicate growth joints to cease the glass cracking. However they realized double-glazing to cease condensation would damage Mies’s aesthetic; barely thicker single glazing would have to do. As a outcome, the condensation received’t be completely banished, and delicate artworks received’t be on show within the higher corridor in deep winter or excessive summer time.

Consensus was not at all times straightforward to obtain, in accordance to Joachim Jäger, head of the New Nationwide Gallery. “I believe the novel nature of Chipperfield’s strategy will solely turn out to be obvious when the gallery reopens,” he stated. “He and his staff had been adamant about defending the spirit of Mies.” Some guests would absolutely complain about there being no cafe within the sculpture backyard, Mr. Jäger stated — Mies deliberate it as a house for reflection, not for pleasure — and he himself was nonetheless having bother accepting that the decrease gallery would once more be carpeted, 1960s-fashion.

Mr. Chipperfield’s rigor appears to be leaving its mark on the best way Berlin’s museums function. The consensual resolution not to alter the Neues Museum’s ornate forged-iron roof beams signifies that, due to hearth-security guidelines, not more than ,200 folks will be inside at a time. The Neues Museum confirmed that “curators can stay with restrictions,” stated Jörg Haspel, head of the Berlin Heritage Conservation Authority. “It takes willpower to not at all times demand the modernization of a museum, to settle for it as an historic artifact, as an exhibit in itself. I believe we're actually starting to get there now.”

Mr. Jäger agreed this strategy might turn out to be “a actual Berlin phenomenon” — after Mr. Chipperfield places 35,000 items of Mies again the place they belong. However, even now, with its granite paving gone and its home windows soiled, Mies’s higher corridor maintained its mystique. Stripped of paneling, dropped ceiling, and carpet, the as soon as elegantly hushed downstairs was an echoey hull. “It’s a bit surprising,” stated Mr. Chipperfield, surveying the decrease ground. “You see how skinny the phantasm of structure is.” To which Mr. Reichert added: “Mies actually was a magician. He might achieve this a lot with so little — even with one thing that appears like an underground parking storage.”