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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

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

Rear view of the new National Gallery with illuminated basement Rear view of the new National Gallery with illuminated basement
The homogeneous illumination of the freely arranged walls in the basement emphasises Mies van der Rohe's design principle of a flowing space. © Simon Menges

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. ” Portrait of 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. © Simon Menges/ VG Bild-Kunst , Bonn 2021
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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

  • Docomomo Rehabilitation Award (2021),
    "Enhanced Masterpieces"
  • BDA (Association of German Architects) Award Berlin (2021)
  • Der Deutsche Lichtdesign-Preis (2022),
  • IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) Illumination Awards (2022)
    Award of Merit
  • European Award AHI (2023),
    Category: Built Heritage