The tragic destruction of the Palladian Mansion Clandon Park due to a fire last week, set my mind racing of the Herculean task of restoration when little remains. It made me reflect on the art of restoring and conservation and of one particular place I was inspired by this year: the Neues Musuem in Berlin….
I find it the most perfect example of the fusion of new and old. The nineteenth century neoclassical building with its ionic colonade was heavily bombed during the Second World War and for decades it lay abandoned. So much had been lost from the glory days of its construction when it amassed the most exceptional works of art from the Egyptian, Byzantine, Roman and Renaissance periods. It had the most extensive collection of plaster casts – and those that were not destroyed were stored away, the disintegration compounded by years of neglect throughout the Communist era.
First attempts were made to reconstruct in 1986 but stopped with the fall of the Berlin Wall. ln 1997 when Germany was reunified creating increased prosperity, the architect David Chipperfield was brought in with his courageous vision of restoration. He didn’t attempt to ‘make good’ but preserved the story so it could be told, not covering up the damage but replacing what had been lost.
He worked alongside the specialist architects Julian Harap Architects, closely linked to the restoration of historic buildings like the Sir John Soane Museum. The result is frankly outstanding, the juxtaposition of restored and old surfaces are brought to life by a subtle yet complex lighting scheme that moves it firmly into the 21st century.
It only officially reopened in 2009 and many treasures resurfaced including one of the most outstanding Egyptian artifacts, the bust of Neferiti and the Colossal Statue of Helios.
The Neues is part of Berlin’s Museum Island which houses five museums. Another moment that totally moved me: where architecture fuses with art and history is Kathe Kollwitz’s sculpture, ‘Mother with her Dead son’. A pool of light falls from the ceiling …
I am not suggesting that rennovation of Clandon Park should move along these modernist lines but it just makes me think about what magic can occur when all seems lost. When Uppark, the 17th century house in West Sussex experienced its devastating fire, the National Trust undertook its largest conservation project to date and brought together the most highly skilled experts using all their mastery and heartfelt passion. It is the most inspiring story and hope springs eternal that once again the devastation of Clandon Park serves to keep true skills alive and some good will come of what can only be described as a catastrophy.