The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) is part of the cultural center Kulturforum, situated between the Landwehr Canal, Potsdamer Platz and Tiergarten Park in Tiergarten, central Berlin. The site was once a residential area built in the 19th century but parts of it were torn down by the Nazis to give place to Hitler and Speers vision of a new Berlin, Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital Germania).
After World War II and the division of Berlin most of the cultural buildings had ended up on the East German side of the wall. As a result of this plans of making a new cultural center for West Berlin started in the 50s. Kulturforum was to become a modernist answer to Museum Island and the New National Gallery to become its centerpiece.
Mies van der Rohe was invited to design the museum in 1961. However the idea behind the building's design originated from an earlier project of Mies. Five years before, Mies had been commissioned to design a new office for Cuban liquor brand Bacardi, in their hometown of Santiago de Cuba. The design he proposed, a large roof plate supported by two columns on each side, although different in scale, and in concrete instead of steel, was almost identical to design he would later propose for the New National Gallery.
The Bacardi project was abandoned in 1960, but by then Mies had already done numerous scale model studies of the construction principle, which he then got use for in the New National Gallery.
The building has obvious classical references - standing on a podium like a Greek temple overlooking the street. It is said to be an homage to Schinkel’s neoclassical Altes Museum (Old Museum) completed in 1828 on Museum Island.
The main gesture of the building is without a doubt the upper exhibition hall and the giant floating 1,8 m thick, 65 m square, black painted steel roof plate, resting on two cruciform steel pillars on each side leaving its corners free.
The glass walls and the open floor plan create a space that effortlessly floats between inside and outside under a seemingly levitating ceiling. To make this space possible Mies put three fourths of the building's 10 000 m2 program submerged inside the podium, including all service areas, offices, exhibitions spaces, café, shop etc. getting natural light only from the Sculpture Garden in the west.
The New National Gallery houses 20th-century Modern Art including Cubism, Expressionism, the Bauhaus and Surrealism and works from artists like Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky.