British architect selected for controversial renovation of Athens’ “Museum of Museums” | Hellas

It is intended to be the “Museum of Museums of the Western World”, a showcase of the largest Greek repository of ancient art.

Once completed, the renewed National Archaeological Museum in Athens, officials say, will not only have expanded but will be “reborn” at a time of record tourism in the country.

“Today I am deeply convinced that a personal dream of mine has come true,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told an audience at the museum for the unveiling of the new plan on Wednesday.

The iconic project, overseen by British architect Sir David Chipperfield, is expected to take five years. Presenting the plans, the Briton stressed that the aim was not to compete with the museum’s central neoclassical building, which houses one of the world’s finest collections of antiquities, but to complement the historic landmark by drawing on the original design. “Our architectural approach was to create a plinth that develops from the existing building… [that] At the same time it is developing into a powerful piece of architecture,” he said.

“The challenge, of course, is to balance those two things.”

The proposed renovation was unanimously selected from a list of 10 by an international evaluation committee last month. Chipperfield, known for the restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin, estimated that the construction would create around 20,000 square meters of additional space, including two floors of underground galleries, a lush roof garden and a street-level entrance.

But like most public works it is controversial.

Not since the Acropolis Museum was built in 2009 at the foot of the fifth century BC the site has a project of such scope caused such discussion or emotion. Before the proposed design was chosen, the Association of Hellenic Architects had threatened to take the issue of the competition rules to the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, after it became clear that only award-winning foreign firms with museum experience would be allowed to participate in the work .

“It is unacceptable that Greek architects are not allowed to participate,” said Tassis Papaioannou, emeritus professor of architecture at the National University of Athens. “We are seriously considering taking this to court because the way they have gone about it so far is illegal.”

Greek renovation experts also object to the scale of the new entrance, saying the photorealistic images released by the winning team are overly optimistic. “The new construction will effectively overshadow the original 19th century building from public view at street level,” said Kostas Zampas, who has led restoration work at the Acropolis for 25 years. “After yesterday’s presentation it is clear that what is one of the great neoclassical monuments of Athens will be hidden if this overly optimistic approach is allowed.”

Chipperfield, described as a master of works dealing with “dignity, gravity, memory and art”, told the Guardian his team had struggled with similar concerns. “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” he said after the presentation. “From some angles, it’s true, it will have an impact, but the question is whether it’s significant damage or not [the change in view] it’s just different. It’s a perfectly valid question. Our concerns are not dissimilar.”

Mitsotakis, whose center-right government faces re-election this year, has made the renovation a cultural priority, saying it will not only put the institution on the map but help revitalize an entire district in central Athens.

“We display less than 10% of what we have in our warehouses,” he said of his vast collection. “It has always troubled me that just over 500,000 visitors come to the museum each year when it houses such an incredible wealth of world heritage.”

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