East Wing of the Museum of Natural History - Berlin - Germany
So much care and accuracy in the back courtyard: from the remains of war emerges a pale reflection of the past. Molded and cast to the smallest detail, it is at once familiar and alien.
Although the architects were commissioned to renovate the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) in 1995, the measures were delayed due to financial reasons, and only the most urgent repairs were carried out initially. It was only in 2010 that Diener & Diener were finally able to complete the restoration of the war-ravaged east wing. The Museum für Naturkunde was built in Berlin’s Invalidenstrasse from 1885 to 1889 by August Tiede, a student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
During the Second World War, a bomb explosion almost entirely demolished the east wing of the three-winged building complex.
While its western façade remained mostly intact except for the windows, the rest of the building collapsed into the basement and remained a ruin for the next sixty years.
The reconstructed wing would now showcase the Museum’s historic wet collection featuring over 27,000 glass jars containing preserved animal specimens.
The starting point for the restoration of the east wing were the very special needs of its new use. Distributed across three floors, the delicate specimens must be protected from light and temperature fluctuations. The new wing was thus rebuilt without windows, and a massive, thermally decoupled building envelope was created behind the existing façade. The historic (augmented) external façade now serves a purely aesthetic function, maintaining coherence with the adjacent buildings. The reconstruction is barely visible, making itself felt mostly through a sense that something is off somehow.
The surviving window openings in what remained of the original façade were walled off using bricks as similar to the original as possible.
The new parts of the façade were molded from the intact opposite wing and then cast as wall-sized reinforced concrete elements. Unlike the original part with its walled-off openings, these present the façade with all of its lost detailing (such as the window bars) and even the traces of wear and tear accumulated over the years.
With its high level of detail, the new part of the façade - despite the “non-color” of its concrete - is a close approximation of the original building and serves as a kind of black-and-white snapshot of the past. Rather than distinguishing the new from the old and emphasizing the gap between them, the architects achieved a delicate balance between the legibility of the intervention and an overall undisturbed impression. Like the specimens paled by the alcohol that preserves them, the building façade was carefully primed and preserved for posterity.