Finally, this museum ready to open, the official opening is expected with much anticipation towards the end of the year. Proudly headed by architect Bernard Tschumi, the new museum project team also comprises local architect Michael Photiadis and the museum’s director Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis.
The building has two layers; one leads to the excavations. It is quite unusual that you actually have to save and show the finds, so the whole building is on stilts. The ground floor is really structured so as to reveal the excavations, which is why you have all the glass, including the glass ramp leading to the galleries.
The second layer has all the sculptures and the artifacts related to the Acropolis. This part of the building, its geometry, follows the street’s geometry and pattern. But the top room, the glass enclosure, is really all about the Parthenon – it is absolutely parallel to it. This is why the building makes this strange shift on the top floor, and why the corners seem to stick out over the street.
The whole shape comes out of the conditions of the brief and our solution. Architects started from that shape and everything proceeded from there. Architects made it as minimal as possible, in terms of form as well as material, as we did not want to compete with the Parthenon. There were people who advocated that the New Museum should be in the style of the Parthenon; Tschumi always say that Tschumi did not want to imitate Phidias, but to think like Pythagoras. In other words, think of mathematics and master geometry, and start from a level of abstraction.
There are two things, which were technologically important for the building, and they have to do with the location, Athens. One is that this is an earthquake country, and the other is that it can get quite hot. The earthquake part means that architects had to devise the building in such a way as to include the latest technology. Instead of making the building as heavy as possible, as was the usual practice until recently, we made the structure as subtle and flexible as possible.
This museum is done with the latest earthquake protection technology, developed in the last 20 years from our experience in Japan and California, called Base Insulation System. The lower part of the building is anchored into the ground, but the upper part is actually separated from it by a sort of cushion, like ball bearings, so that the upper part can move separately from the lower part.
The second technical aspect is the glass skin. There is a gap between the double-glazing of the top floor, so the hot air from the galleries circulates through the glass wall gaps, via the ceiling and ends up in the basement, where it is cooled and brought back up in the galleries. Architects recycle the air all the time to help keep the temperature stable and cool.