Chipperfield to expand National Archaeological Museum | New era

A new façade reinforces the National Archaeological Museum’s relationship with the city of Athens

David Chipperfield Architects has unveiled its winning rammed earth design for the expansion of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. 

Recently selected as the overall winner of an international competition, the plans envision a museum upgrade, a subterranean extension toward the street, better connecting the museum to the city, and a link with the historic building.

Located in the Exarcheia district of Athens and first constructed between 1855 and 1874, the National Archaeological Museum was designed by Ludwig Lange and Ernst Ziller. It’s the largest of its kind in Greece and it holds one of the world’s most important collections of prehistoric and ancient Greek art.

A central courtyard connects the old and the new

With this new renovation and extension, the Berlin studio of David Chipperfield Architects aims to make reference to the neoclassical architecture, whilst bringing it update to date with modern accessibility and sustainability standards.

In a return to the core of the design, which is referred to by David Chipperfield as “a romantic philhellenic idea of an urban landscape”, the new visuals show how the monumental building will be framed with nature. 

The neoclassical landmark building is framed by a lush green landscape

One intervention will involve the extension of the building plinth to the street. This is intended to place the historic building in a new frame, whilst adding two floors of subterranean spaces to the museum. This results in approximately 20,000 square-metres of floor space and a green public park on the roof. 

“Respecting the building’s historical value, the extension does not aspire to compete with the existing architecture, but forms a harmonious ensemble of spaces, finding a balance between old and new,” explains David Chipperfield.

Embracing an “architectural language pure and clear volumes”, have designed an entrance where visitors walk through two storey floors of seamlessly connected exhibition spaces, leading them to the existing building. 

The internal spaces wrap around the central courtyard

The extension will house permanent and temporary galleries, as well as public facilities including a ticket desk, restaurant, shop, and an auditorium. Internally, the spaces offer diagonal visits and encompass visitors with the rammed earth walls, forging that close connection to nature and creating a contrast with the historic galleries. 

“In combination with a precise play of light and shadow, this evokes the feeling of subterranean caverns, forming a sensitive setting for exhibiting artefacts and sculptures from the collection,” adds Chipperfield.

The surrounding museum gardens are shaded and relatively peaceful public places, elevated above the everyday bustle of the city. The landscape, designed by Belgian landscape architects Wirtz International is rich in texture and it echoes the ancient Greek ideal of a public gathering place where all citizens are welcomed. Accessible from all directions, the park features a sunken, sheltered inner courtyard at its centre, forming a convivial meeting spot.

“The volumes on the lower level allow for the planting of monumental trees on the roof. Lavish gravel spaces and paths, lawns, groups of Umbrella and Aleppo pines with evergreen Holm oaks and tailored shrub massings reference 19th-century parks,” add the architects.

Drawings and plans are pictured above (credit: © David Chipperfield Architects).

The design’s logic follows the existing topography of the site and provides public access to the park

Visualisations by Filippo Bolognese Images.

David Chipperfield was recently announced as the winner of the 2023 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Discover more diverse architectural projects by David Chipperfield Architects.

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