Architecture of Form and Architecture of the Surface at the New Acropolis Museum ― 

The Acropolis Museum is an attempt in reinventing the classical, through contemporary architectural language. The Museum’s objective is to house the Parthenon sculptures under natural light, inside a building that will not compete against its contents; in spite of its huge volume, the Museum tries to provide a neutral background and, according to the architects, its main design strategy is just a structured movement, in three-dimensional space. This particular idea of the classical, however, lies in contradiction with the very sculptures it is meant to put on display.

The architectural competition, held in the year 2000, was awarded to Bernard Tschumi and Michalis Fotiades Architects. The winning entry was a tripartite building, in the same manner that classical buildings were divided in base, cornice and pediment: the building’s form is sliced in three distinct parts, turning against each other at an angle; this differentiation is further accentuated with the choice of different materials for each one of the segments’ façade – prefabricated concrete, aluminum shades and transparent glass. The color scheme, and the material palette, employ modern shades of gray, silver and black, in a way that highlights the sculptures; in our perception, those are always thought of as white, and unadorned. Both the building, and the sculptures, are understood as a composition of masses in space, and this is the one element defining the Museum’s architecture.

In 2007, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, held the periodic exhibition Gods in Color , which subverts all that we know about ancient sculpture: The archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann, using UV light, located traces of color in classical sculptures, and brought to everyone’s attention the importance of this vanished layer. The exhibition uproots our received idea of a “white” architecture and sculpture in Antiquity, tracing its origins to Johann Joachim Winkelmann, and brings us closer to the theories of Gottfried Semper, who was an advocate of polychromy, as a supplementary layer of information in architecture: If, for Winkelmann, architecture and sculpture are a matter of ordaining mass, and any other element is but a distraction from the purity of form, for Semper, instead, architecture relies on the chromatic structuring of the surface, as if it were a woven fabric. This idea of a “white” Antiquity is so deeply grafted upon our collective perception, that the sight of ancient sculptures painted in vivid colors by Brinkmann, appears shocking.

Since 2012, the Acropolis Museum has its own, permanent exhibition on polychromy in classical sculpture: Under the title Archaic Colors , the Museum conducts research on its unique collection of archaic statues, which retain their colors to a small or large degree, and has opened a very extensive discussion with the public and various experts on color, its technical issues, its detection using new technologies, its experimental use on marble surfaces, its digital reconstruction, its meaning, as well as the archaic period’s aesthetic perception of color. So far, scientific research into the color found on ancient sculpture has made great progress and reached surprising conclusions that to a large degree refute the stereotypical assumptions regarding ancient sculpture. It turns out that color, far from being just a simple decorative element, added to the sculpture’s aesthetic quality.

It is striking how, the very building that houses the Acropolis sculptures, endorses Winkelmann’s ideas from the 18th century, and prolongs their life into the 21st one, however “neutral” or “modern” it aspires to be. The Museum itself, through its recent exhibition policy, now tries to resolve this contradiction. It would have been very different, had it been conceived as an architectonic fabric, emulating those sculpted and painted fabrics cladding the Archaic kore in its exhibition; for sure, it would have provoked much deeper controversy, than the one merely focusing on its size alone.

 The doors and frames of the Parthenon Gallery of the Acropolis Museum were coated in AkzoNobel Powder Coatings:

www.tschumi.com, www.photiadis.gr

Architects: Bernard Tschumi, Michael Photiadis
City: Athens, Greece
Year: 2009

Color: Ral 9010 Matt, Ral 9011 Matt
Code: SA810G, SN811G

Specs: :Qualicoat Class 1, GSB Standard, AAMA 2603