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Frontalansicht der Neuen Nationalgalerie von außen bei blauer Stunde; Frontalansicht der Neuen Nationalgalerie von außen bei blauer Stunde;

Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Invisible Innovation: The Lighting for the Neue Nationalgalerie

With its distinctive glass pavilion topped with a steel roof, Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie is an icon of classical modernism. Built between 1965 and 1968, the building was the first museum on the site of the then newly created Kulturforum in West Berlin and became one of the architect’s last major projects.

After almost 50 years of use, David Chipperfield Architects were commissioned to plan and implement a sensitive renovation that would preserve the aesthetic essence and visual integrity of the building, while modernising services to meet the requirements of a contemporary museum operation. The aim was to preserve as much of the original building structure and parts as possible.

Arup was commissioned with the lighting design and daylight planning. One main task was to develop a sustainable, nearly ‘invisible’ lighting design, reconciling a wide range of disciplines such as monument conservation, art science and technology. While maintaining the original lighting layout and meeting stringent conservation and architectural standards, our lighting specialists developed an upgrade concept and design that fulfils the curatorial, conservational, functional, technical and economic requirements of a 21st century museum. 

Project Summary


2,400 restored and upgraded existing luminaires

80% +energy saving

⁓ 100%invisible innovation

View from the upper hall of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin towards the Philharmonie at night View from the upper hall of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin towards the Philharmonie at night

With its transparent façade, the hall lifts the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space. After dark, 784 downlights create the distinctive ceiling image reflected in the glazing. | © Simon Menges

Mies' original lighting concept has been reconstructed in its simplicity and clarity and at the same time technically optimised. The illumination of the walls here in the basement has been particularly successful; the light is now more homogeneous, appears fresher - and gives the art on the walls a new shine. ” Dr. Joachim Jäger Head of Neue Nationalgalerie

Balancing historic preservation and innovation

Around 2,400 existing luminaires were carefully restored and their position in the ceiling preserved. The light distribution of the period luminaires in the room and on the walls was under a strict preservation order, as were the luminaires themselves. The luminaire housings and optical components originally designed for various types of incandescent lamps from the 1960s were upgraded using the latest lighting technology suitable for museum use in such a way that the original light distribution could be retained. As in the 1960s, numerous samples, mock-ups and some laboratory tests were required for this undertaking.

The basic restoration of the Neue Nationalgalerie's lighting was particularly demanding not least because it had to remain as invisible as possible. ” Alexander Rotsch Alexander Rotsch Lighting Design Leader Europe, Arup

Alexander Rotsch, Lighting Design Leader Europe, explains the lighting design and daylight planning for Neue Nationalgalerie.
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Massive energy savings

Despite the increased lighting levels, the new lighting technology enables drastic energy savings of around 80% compared to the existing lighting system. In addition, a new lighting control system allows for flexible, individual control of each luminaire, also enabling fixed lighting scenarios to be called up. Accent lighting using tracks and spotlights in a uniform design is to be understood as an additive element to Mies van der Rohe's original lighting concept and only appears in relation to specific exhibition designs.

Award winning

Neue Nationalgalerie was awarded the Docomomo Rehabilitation Award in the category of Enhanced Masterpieces in 2021. The award recognizes the best efforts to preserve modern architecture while adapting it to contemporary standards and inspire a conscious reflection on modernity as living heritage.