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  • Writer's pictureAnna Dorothea Ker, MA

A Brief History of The James Simon Gallery in Berlin

What is the James Simon Gallery?

The James Simon Gallery is a stark and striking colonnaded gallery designed by British architect David Chipperfield that serves as Museum Island’s visitor centre.

James Simon Gallery stairs

abbilder, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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James Simon Gallery History

Since its official opening in 1830, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (or Museum Island) has showcased over 6,000 years of history, art, and culture. Over the centuries since its inception, the island has been undergoing a process of constant upgrade, restoration, expansion and evolution. Changes have been mostly in the right direction, or so the evidence suggests: the site holds the dual titles of UNESCO World Heritage Site status and one of Europe’s most significant museum clusters.

It may come as a surprise, therefore, that the cultural ensemble has long been without an official visitor centre – until 2019, that is. Named after Museum Island’s most significant patron, James Simon, a 19th-century Jewish textile business owner and prolific supporter of the arts and sciences (one of many Jewish patrons whose names were suppressed during the Nazi era), the so-called James-Simon-Galerie was designed by esteemed British architect David Chipperfield. Having previously won a 1993 tender to renovate not only the island’s Neues Musuem, but also the construction of ‘connecting and extension buildings’, Chipperfield finally began work on the new entrance in 2013. He drew much inspiration from the famed forum architecture of Prussian architect Friedrich August Stüler, who designed the Neues Museum in the mid-19th century.

colonnaded gallery of the James Simon Gallery

Situated on the former riverside site of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s ‘Neuer Packhof’ (a central customs and tax office), the result, opened in 2019, is an elegantly restrained building offering a distinctly modern take on the classical column form. That this ‘typology’ has been with us continuously since ancient Greece attests to the eternal appeal of the colonnade. Airy and flooded with light, the gallery’s pared-back design aligns seamlessly with its intended function: an entrance hall which includes a reception space, ticket counter, auditorium, café, and direct access to the Pergamonmuseum and the Neues Museum. In its role as both a gateway and a support structure, the James-Simon-Galerie stands luminescent as a fresh façade that honours Museum Island’s past while paving the way for its future.

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