The New Acropolis Museum
Design and Original Exhibits from the Acropolis Collection
Hellenic Ministry of Culture
Organization for the Construction of the New Alexander S. Onassis
Public Benefit Foundation Acropolis Museum (USA)
OFFICIALS WRITE ABOUT THE MUSEUM
From the Minister. . .
This exhibition on the New Acropolis Museum provides an introduction to the construction of a major cultural institution for Greece and the world. The architectural drawings and renderings of the building, models and original exhibits provide a snapshot of the museum that is under construction and will help develop the expectations of the American public, who will be able to visit the Parthenon Gallery of the Museum in 2004.
The Hellenic Ministry of Culture is pleased to be able to offer a taste of the new Museum's exhibition program by providing select original pieces from the Archaic and Classical collections. Bernard Tschumi's exquisite design for the New Acropolis Museum creates an ideal environment for the exhibition of these masterpieces. Most particularly however, the design has as its climax the glass-encased Gallery designed specifically for the exhibition of the sculptures of the Parthenon, currently split between Athens and London.
The construction of the New Acropolis Museum offers the opportunity for Britain to make it possible to reunify the sculptures of the Parthenon for this and subsequent generations. Until such time as they return, the spaces for the metopes, frieze, and figures of the pediment will remain void - as a constant reminder of this unfulfilled debt to world heritage.
I warmly thank the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA) for sponsoring this initiative, and in particular it's President, Mr. Stelio Papadimitrou, and the Executive Director, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas.
--Prof. Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Culture, Hellenic Republic
From the President. . .
The construction of a new museum to house the sculptural heritage of the Acropolis has been a goal of the Greek state for more than two decades. Today that goal is being realized with foundation work for the Museum underway.
A two-stage tender process commenced in the summer of 2000 seeking a design that would satisfy our requirements for a museum that was worthy of the masterpieces it would contain and the monument to which it would directly relate. Our tender specifications provided clear challenges to the candidates: a new approach was required to integrate the 2,500-square-mater archaeological excavations on the building site into the fabric of the museum as as extended exhibit; to replicate, as far as possible, the natural light and atmospheric conditions of the original location of the exhibits on the Acropolis, within the Museum; the achievement of a balance between the Museum's architecture and that of the Hill of the Acropolis, the heritage Weiler building, and the façade of the neighboring Acropolis Metro Station; and finally and more critically, the capacity for the visit to simultaneously view the Parthenon sculptures and the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
The first prize was awarded to the design of Bernard Tschumi Architects New York/Paris with Michael Photiadis, an Athens-based architect, for a simple, clear, and beautiful solution that is in accord with the beauty and classical simplicity of the Museum's unique exhibits and that ensures a museological and architectural experience that is relevant today and for the foreseeable future.
We are grateful to the Onassis Foundation for the opportunity to present our design and building program for the New Acropolis Museum to the American public in New York, the city that is also fortunate to have a proud association with our lead architect, Bernard Tschumi.
--Prof. Dimitrios Pandermalis, President, Organization for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum
From the President. . .
The Onassis Foundation (USA) presents to the city of New York an exhibition on the New Acropolis Museum. In this respect, I would like to express our thanks to the Minister of Culture of Greece, Professor Evangelos Venizelos, and the President of the Organization for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum, Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis.
In the creation of a new Acropolis museum, the immediate proximity of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and the need to give a worthy home to the surviving priceless treasures of the Sacred Rock, presented a formidable challenge. It was met by the design of Bernard Tschumi, one of New York's leading architects.
The New Acropolis Museum is a major contribution to the noble endeavour to make it possible for future generations all over the world to fully admire, enjoy, and learn from the wonders of Classical Hellas (Greece).
We hope that the New Acropolis Museum will ultimately become the home of all the Parthenon's Masterpieces, thus making out of the mutilated monument a splendid whole as it should be.
--Mr. Stelio Papadimitriou, President, Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation
From the Architectural Designer. . .
A Triple Challenge:
How to provide a museum for an exceptional collection containing significant sculptures of classical Greece and one masterpiece, the Parthenon Frieze?
How to design a museum on a complex site hovering over excavations while aiming at maximum transparency through expanses of glass, all in the hot climate of an earthquake region?
How to make an architectural statement for a major museum located at the foot of the Parthenon, arguably one of the most influential buildings of all time?
The site of the New Acropolis Museum is immediately below the Acropolis, three hundred meters from the Parthenon. It is filled with archaeological excavations and contains valuable ruins. The ruins must remain untouched but also be part of the museum visit. The task is daunting, since Athens is a place of regular earthquakes and new construction is subject to strict structural constraints.
Moreover, the artifacts to be exhibited in the new museum are priceless and irreplaceable yet will be visited by tens of thousands of viewers every day. The plan of the museum must allow a chronological sequence that culminates in the famous frieze of the Parthenon Marbles. While direct visual contact with the original site of the Parthenon above should be established, glazing in a hot climate raises technical challenges. Lastly, nearly half of the frieze is currently at the British Museum in London, and its restitution is the object of major political struggles.
At the outset, it was decided to "play down" the architectural approach and to address the evident dramatic complexities of the collection and the site with minimalist simplicity. The aim was maximum sobriety. If architecture can be described as the materialization of concepts, the building is about the clarity of an exhibition route expressed through three materials - marble, concrete, and glass. Within the unusual constraints of the site, the project ought to appear effortless and almost undesigned: a base of pilotis above the ruins, a middle section containing the main galleries, and a glass top at the summit containing the Parthenon frieze. The goal of this orchestrated simplicity is to focus the viewers' emotions and intellect on extraordinary works of art.
Three concepts turn the unusual constraints and circumstances of the museum into an architectural opportunity offering a simple and precise artistic context with the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greece.
Blue Sky: A Concept of Light
More than in any other type of museum, the conditions animating the New Acropolis Museum revolve around natural light. Much as the daylight in Athens differs from light in London, Berlin, or Bilbao, so light for the exhibition of sculpture differs from the light involved in displaying paintings or drawings. The museum not only begins from a specific collection but must also be preeminently a museum of ambient natural light, concerned with the presentation of sculptural objects within it.
People in Motion: A Concept of Circulation
The visitor's route through the museum forms a clear three-dimensional loop, affording an architectural promenade with a rich spatial experience that extends from the archaeological excavations to the Parthenon Marbles and back through the Roman period.
This movement sequence is akin to a narrative that develops chronologically from the early slope findings through artifacts from the Archaic period to the Parthenon Marbles, ending with sculptures from the Roman Empire. The spatial narrative combines linear movement through space with artistic and historical storytelling.
Movement in and through time, always a crucial dimension of architecture, is an important aspect of this museum in particular. With more than 10,000 visitors daily, the sequence of movement through the museum artifacts is designed to be of the utmost clarity.
A Base, A Middle, and A Top:
(A programmatic concept turned into architecture)
The base of the museum design hovers over the existing archaeological excavations on pilotis. This level contains the entrance lobby as well as temporary exhibition spaces, retail space, and all supporting facilities.
The middle is a large, double-height, trapezoidal plate that accommodates all galleries from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire. A mezzanine level includes a bar and restaurant with views toward the Acropolis and a multimedia auditorium.
The top is made up of the rectangular Parthenon Gallery arranged around an indoor court. The glass enclosure of the Gallery provides ideal light for sculpture in direct view to and from the historical reference point of the Acropolis. The Parthenon Marbles will be displayed in the gallery so as to be visible from the Acropolis above. The design of the enclosure is conceived to protect both the sculptures and visitors against excessive heat and light, thanks to the most contemporary glass technology. The orientation of the Marbles will be exactly as it was at the Parthenon centuries ago, and their setting will provide an unprecedented context for understanding the accomplishments of the Parthenon complex itself.
DETAILS ABOUT THE NEW ACROPOLIS MUSEUM in Athens, Greece
Tschumi's design is for a building in dialogue with the environment, creating a direct relationship between the exhibits and the monuments from which they originally came. Light is a central concept, influencing the selection of construction materials and emphasizing the use of glass.
The low-rise building is divided into three linked sections, most simply described as base, middle, and top. The base incorporates the Museum lobby, temporary exhibition area, museum shop, and refreshment area. The middle, a trapezoidal-shaped section, houses the Archaic, Post-Parthenon, and Roman periods. A mezzanine contains a bar, restaurant (with panoramic views of the Acropolis), and multimedia auditorium. The top, a rectangular glass enclosure with a centrally placed outdoor court, forms the Parthenon Gallery. The axis of the glass enclosure differs from the middle section below because it replicates the orientation of the Parthenon.
Below the base, at the ground level of the Makriyianni site, the onsite excavation unfolds below the entrance ramp of the Museum and extends under the lobby and the depths of the building. The building has three basement levels with service areas.
For the first time ever, all the surviving treasures of the Acropolis will be seen together in one place. Works currently held in storage, in other Athenian museums, and in museums abroad will be brought together within the one Museum, close to their original location. Visitors will have the opportunity to view the Acropolis treasures exhibited in historical sequence and grouped according to their original location on the Sacred Rock in an exhibition space of 14,000 square meters.
The permanent collections of the Museum will comprise objects from antiquity. Findings of the Byzantine and later periods will be exhibited in the temporary gallery of the Museum, together with other occasional exhibitions.
The onsite excavation has brought to light evidence of human life that dates to prehistoric times and continues to the Byzantine period. Approximately 2,500 square meters of the Athenian city will be exhibited, with the architectural remains of the different periods essentially being defined by the three ancient roads revealed on the site. Residential complexes will be shown, with attention being drawn to the most remarkable of these: the private houses of the early Christian era (4th-6th century A.D.) and a residence of the seventh century A.D. with a large hall and a round tower. Portable finds, including sculptures, lamps, vases, and coins, will be displayed in the locations where they were found.
Finds from the Slopes of the Acropolis
The first permanent collection comprises the finds from the slopes of the Acropolis. This collection includes statues, reliefs, and inscriptions from the Sanctuary of Asklepio, located on the south side of the Sacred Rock; the glorious vases and terracottas from the Sanctuary of Nymphe, located between the Odeon Herodes Atticus and today's pedestrian mall of Dionysios Areopagitou; and the objects from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros found on the northern slope of the Acropolis.
The Archaic Collection commences with works from the prehistoric and Geometric periods and concludes with findings in the Severe style. Unique sculptures and bas-reliefs from the Archaic Acropolis are included, together with terracotta, ceramic, and bronze works that were the votive offerings of the people of antiquity. The Persians destroyed the monuments of the Archaic period in 480 B.C. and the Athenians then buried in them pits at the Acropolis of Athens, enabling this rich collection to survive to this day.
The climax of the Museum collection are the magnificent architectural sculptures that decorated the Parthenon in Classical times. The frieze, with its splendid portrayal of the Panathenaic procession, beginning at the southwest corner and running east and north to meet at the front of the building at the eastern end, ran around the external walls of the cella of the original building. The metopes and the pediments will be on view, along with inscriptions from the Parthenon itself and from its Treasury.
The Post-Parthenon Collection includes architectural sculptures from the Sanctuary and parapet of the Temple of Athena Nike, the sculptures of the Erectheion frieze, the porch of the Caryatids, architectural elements from the Erectheion and the Propylaia, architectural inscriptions, and reliefs recording the foreign-affairs policy of Athens and its relationships with other Greek states.
The collection from the Roman Empire includes copies of classical sculptures, especially sculptural portraits, some of which are masterpieces.
Four Original Masterpieces from the Acropolis: A New Way of Revealing Beauty & Secrets
The management and use of light for sculptures is a key feature of the Museum's building and exhibition program. Using new and varied approaches to lighting, the Museum aims to reveal the many fascinating secrets of the relief surfaces of the exhibits. Using these approaches, a key objective of the Museum is to fascinate visitors with the beauty of these masterpieces of ancient art.
A case study of these new approaches is formed by the four pieces of exhibit, which represent the most glorious and celebrated periods of classical Athens. They date from the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries B.C. These exhibits are only a small number of the exceptional sculptures and superior quality bas-reliefs in the New Acropolis Museum. Some of them derive from the architectural decoration of the sacred buildings of the Acropolis, while others were freestanding votive monuments.
H. 56 cm, W. 47 cm
Acropolis Museum Inv. No. 1340
Part of a relief plaque with a horse head in pentelic marble, found in 1835, west of the Parthenon. It has been associated with other fragments (Acr. 1342, 1343) attributed by scholars to the frieze of the Old Athena Temple on the Acropolis. Preserved is a horse protome toward the right; its mane has a continuous contour, ending in a separate fringe of wavy curls between the ears. The ear was made of a separately worked piece of marble and the eye, probably of a colored stone, enliving the animal's expression; they were both inserted in cuttings. Dated last quarter of the 6th century B.C.
H. Payne and G. Young, Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis (London, 1936), p. 50 pl. 128
H. Schrader, Die archaischen Marmorbiwerke der Akropolis (Frankfurt, 1939), p. 390, no. 475, pl. 200
M. Brouskari, Mouseio Akropoleos, Perigrafikos Katalogos (Athens 1974), p. 52, pl. 92
H. 28 cm, W. 29 cm
Acropolis Museum Inv. No. 2441
Upper left part of a votive relief of pentelic marble. Preserved is the helmeted head and the upper torso of Athena, turning toward the right. The goddess wears a peplos (robe) and a narrow aegis with festoons around her neck, over the peplos; her Attic helmet has a circular hole for the attachment of a bronze cheek-piece. The iconographical type of the goddess and the style of the relief show a connection with the sculptural creations of the post-pheidian era representing the city-goddess of Athens, most of which had been installed in her sanctuary on the Acropolis. Dated late 5th century B.C.
O. Walter, Beschreibung der Reliefs im kleinen Akropolismueum (Vienna, 1923), pp.40-41, no. 57
M. Brouskari, Mouseio Akropoleos, Perigrafikos Katalogos (Athens, 1974), p. 181, pl. 359
H. 44 cm, W. 64 cm
Acropolis Museum Inv. No. 1329
Upper part of a large votive relief of pentelic marble, with a horizontal molded top. Herakles is shown in front of a winged Nike and a second female, possibly Hebe, who became his wife at the moment of his apotheosis. The two first figures are preserved from the waist and the third from the middle of her breast. The hero is nude, turning toward the right, with excellently modeled anatomical details and short curly hair. At his side is Nike with her wings open, crowning him with her right hand and holding Hebe's shoulder with her left. Hebe, as a deity, is depicted in a larger scale. The female figures wear the Attic belted peplos and their young bodies are visible under the drapery. The theme of the relief is common in fourth-century B.C. vase painting and in eschatological representations that appear after the tribulation of the Peloponnesian War. Dated 5th century B.C.
G. Lippold, Griechische Plastik (Munich 1950), p. 197, note 10
M. Brouskari, Mouseio Akropoleos, Perigrafikos Katalogos (Athens, 1974), pp. 182-183, pl. 364
H. 51 cm, W. 33.5 cm
Acropolis Museum Inv. No. 1349
Document relief of pentelic marble, in the form of a pedimental stele with akroteria that is part of the honorary decree of Alketas, son of Leptines of Syracuse. Its horizontal top is inscribed with the name of the eponymous archon, Asteios, with the three-line title of the decree following. In the middle of the relief is a horse stepping toward the left on a band indicating the ground level. Below the band, part of an olive crown is preserved. The following text of the inscription has been lost. The honored is believed to have been Alketas, king of the Molossians, who had been adopted by Leptines during his exile in Syracuse. In 373 B.C., the date of the decree, the Molossian king Alketas had assisted the Athenian general Timotheos at his trial. The combination of the horse and the crown perhaps is a reference to an equestrian victory. Dated 373/372 B.C.
S. Casson et al, Catalogue of the Acropolis Museum, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1921),, p. 255
M. Brouskari, Mouseio Akropoleos, Perigrafikos Katalogos (Athens, 1974), p. 185, pl. 370
C. L. Lawton, Attic Document Reliefs (Oxford, 1995), p. 93, pl. 11, no. 21
More than any other quality, light is the theme of the New Acropolis Museum and a central requirement of the design. Large glass surfaces on the facades and roof optimize opportunities for natural light, in recognition of the special luminosity of daylight of Attica. Light is used as a tool to replicate, as far as possible, the outdoor conditions under which many of the architectural sculptures were originally seen.
Natural light enters the Museum from the atrium of the Parthenon Gallery, penetrating through its glass floor, passing through the Archaid Gallery, and ultimately filtering lightly through the glass paneling in the ground floor into the archaeological remains below. The strategically placed glass panels on the ground floor above the excavation enable visitors to see key points of interest in the ruins below their feet with the benefit of natural light that enters gently from light wells at the excavation's perimeter.
Specific measures to ensure the protection of the sculptures and visitors against excess heat and light are a key focus of the building program.
The Parthenon Gallery
The optical link with the Acropolis was another mandatory requirement of the design, particularly in relation to the exhibition of the architectural ornamentation of the Parthenon. The museum design responds explicitly to this demand. In the most clear and simple manner, the transparency of the Museum - and, in particular, of the Parthenon Gallery - provides a unique opportunity for viewing the Parthenon, high on the Sacred Rock, while at the same time seeing its architectural decoration on exhibition.
Both the proportions and the orientation of the Parthenon Gallery replicate those of the upper section of the Parthenon. The Museum's display program requires that the 160-meter-long frieze portraying the Panathenaic procession is erected in the precise sequence as it was when adorning the Parthenon, and the same applies to the metopes and pediments. For the first time in contemporary history, the opportunity to reunite all the surviving elements of the architectural ornamentation of the Parthenon within its original configuration and within view of the Parthenon will be available. Spaces will be provided for each work that remains in the Duveen Gallery in Britain as an open invitation to British authorities to reunite the Parthenon frieze.
The Excavation as Exhibit
Few archaeological museums in the world can boast of an exhibition of authentic finds on their own site, woven into the fabric of their exhibit program and building design. The New Acropolis Museum incorporates the remains of the Athenian city dating back to prehistoric times and continuing up to the Byzantine period as a primary exhibit of the Museum, the greater part of which will be accessible to visitors through a network of elevated metal walkways. Another section is visible below the elevated ramp that forms the entrance to the Museum and will greet visitors as they enter the Museum over the elevated walkway. Natural light will be drawn in through light wells on the perimeter of the excavation and colored wash lighting will be used to illuminate the different periods revealed on the site. The Museum design places the building on a series of upright supports carefully located so as to avoid piercing ancient floors or walls.
The ancient ruins of Makriyianni are the natural topographical link between the New Acropolis Museum and its finds and the archaeological site of the Acropolis.
The Museum Location
The 22,000-square-meter site of the New Acropolis Museum is located at the southern base of the Acropolis, intersecting the ancient road that led up to the Acropolis in Classical times. A short walk and within panoramic view of the Parthenon, the entrance and exit of the Museum comprise the cobbled pedestrian walkway of Dionysios Areopagitou Street. As it is the key artery in the network of pedestrian walks under construction across inner Athens, visitors will eventually be able to continue their stroll from the Museum through a 2.5-mile archaeological park linking centers of archeological interest across inner Athens, such as the ancient Cemetery of the Kerameikos, the Ancient Agora, the Hill of Muses and Nymphs, and the Temple of Zeus, free of automobile traffic and city noise.
As is the case with much of the historic quarter of Athens, the Museum site is within a densely occupied urban area that combines historical structures with multistory apartment buildings and retail stores. The Museum design deliberately provides for green open spaces in its street frontages, and a program of beautification for the local area is foreseen.
The welcome location of the Acropolis station of the Athens Metro on the eastern side of the Museum site provides direct access for visitors to a central transport line, giving fast passage to many of Athens key points of interest, such as the central city squares and shopping districts at Syntagma and Omonoia, the National Archaeological Museum, and the popular tourist district of Monastiraki.
Unlike many classical archaeological museums, the relationship between the Museum and its visitors is a central design and planning concept. The exhibition program will both inform visitors of the historical and functional aspects of the exhibits and the monuments to which they belong and enable them to appreciate the exhibits for their own inherent beauty.
Light and atmospheric conditions will be managed to optimize the visitor's comfort as well as to provide continuity between their experience of visiting the Acropolis and their visit to the Museum of the Acropolis.
Appropriate and innovative use of technology to aid visitor understanding of the exhibits will be available. A high standard of visitor experience will be ensured, not only by the exhibition program and the general museum environment but also through the provision of excellent amenities, including a multimedia auditorium, museum shop, restaurant and bar, medical station, and lounge areas.
(Posted March 2005; reformatted February 2007)