Although it is now more than six months since the official opening of the building, positive reviews of the New Acropolis Museum keep on coming. This review is from an architectural specification magazine, hence the focus on the materials that the building is constructed from.
The New Acropolis Museum by Bernard Tschumi
Writer: Robbie Moore
In mid-2007, the Old Acropolis Museum shut its doors. Its collection of giants and centaurs, metopes, pediments and parts of the Parthenon Frieze, were wrapped in plastic shrouds and packed in reinforced wooden boxes, and hauled into the air over Athens. The artworks, some weighing two and a half tonnes, were passed between Europe’s three largest lifting cranes on their way to their new, €130 million home. Now, two years later, the New Acropolis Museum – one of the most significant and frankly political cultural projects of the last decade – has finally opened its doors.
The New Acropolis Museum is as much about the artifacts it’s missing as about the artifacts it holds. Its top-floor gallery, rotated 23 degrees to align with the Parthenon, makes a plain and eloquent case for the return of the Elgin Marbles. The gallery contains a small number of real pieces from the Parthenon, alongside replicas of artifacts taken two hundred years ago by Lord Elgin and now residing in the British Museum. The replicas were not given a fake weathered patina, but were left a perfect, toothpaste white. The contrast with the ancient stones is striking, and deliberate. This is a memorial as much as a museum, mourning a loss.
The architect of the New Acropolis Museum, Bernard Tschumi, is a supporter of the cause. His design destroys an argument used by the British since the 1970s, that Athens was too polluted with smoke and sulphur dioxide to look after the marbles. Athens’ air had already improved with the new metro system and the pedestrianisation of the historic district, but Tschumi further protects the museum’s antiquities with a sophisticated, highly controlled micro-environment. The Caryatids, for instance, were sealed behind glass in the Old Acropolis Museum, but here stand free. The interior conditions are easily preferable to those in the British Museum. The Elgin Marbles are surrounded by four walls and lit from above by diffuse daylight and spotlights, while the New Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon Gallery is open on all sides to the unblinking Greek sun. The works can be viewed, therefore, in the conditions they were intended. “Now that the building is finished and everybody will be able to see the quality of light that you get here”, Tschumi told Wallpaper*, “and the way they will be displayed here compared to the way they are displayed in the British Museum, the return [of the Elgin Marbles] will make sense straight away”.
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