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The New Acropolis Museum by Bernard Tschumi Architects with Michael Fotiadis, Arsy

Categories: Architecture + Interiors

Having to design a big important building is always a dream for an architect. Having to design an iconic building is every architect’s fantasy. Having to compete with perhaps the most iconic building in the world must be the architect’s worst nightmare. This is the case with the new Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects with Michael Fotiadis, Arsy.

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Three concepts turn the constraint of the site into an architectural opportunity. First, the concept of light. More than any other museum in the world, light plays a very significant role in the design and life of the new museum. The Attica light is different from any other place in the world. The sculptures inside need different lighting conditions than paintings or artefacts. Tschumi himself described this as anti-Bilbao, first and foremost concerned with presenting the sculptural objects within it.

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Secondly, the concept of movement. The visitor’s route forms a three-dimensional loop, offering him an architectural promenade with an exceptional spacial experience, starting with the archaeological remains found and preserved in the base of the building, the archaeological excavations of the Parthenon and on through to the Roman years. Movement through time is important in architecture and it shows in this museum particularly well. Considering the estimated 10,000 daily visitors to the museum, the sequence of movement through the exhibited sculptures shows great clarity.

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The third concept is the tectonic and programmatic concept. The base of the museum contains an entrance lobby showcasing the Makriyianni excavations, as well as containing a temporary exhibition space, shop and all facilities. The middle is a large double floor height trapezoidal plate encompassing all the galleries from the Archaic period up to the Roman years. The mezzanine includes a restaurant and a bar, while also accommodating a multimedia auditorium.

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The top is the rectangular Parthenon gallery, around an outdoor court. Surrounded with glass, it provides ample natural light for the sculptures housed within, positioned in exactly the same relevant positions they occupied in the Parthenon, while keeping the temple in direct view. The exhibits will be also visible from the Acropolis itself. With its double glass wall (cold air running between the glass sheets) it will protect the sculptures and the visitors from the extreme heat of the Athenian summers.

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A few days ago the monumental process of transferring the sculptures from the old museum, up on the Acropolis, to the new museum, below. It is an immense task, the first time the marbles will be leaving their home turf. But knowing that the new building is so well made (it can stand a 10 Richter earthquake) and will treasure and guard them for future generations, one can only applaud the effort.

The new building of course has sparked many controversies. I will not go into details over them here as they are not part of my area of expertise. I just wish they get resolved in the best possible way.

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