The New Acropolis Museum of Athens | Bernard Tschumi

Architectural structures are successful as long as they can spatialize the tangible and abstract context they belong to within their own esence, with the architectural language. The most prominent buildings of modern times in terms of relationship with the context are museums in which the history is commodified. Museum buildings are among the most important indicator spaces of a city, a history or a culture. While a structure can have a museum function with the works or concrete elements exhibited inside it, the building itself can turn into an exhibition item. What if a structure exhibit another one? In regard of relationship that it made with the Parthenon of Athens, the new Acropolis Museum is an example standing out in this manner.

The Parthenon and Athens Acropolis

Parthenon Temple
Parthenon Temple

The most known of Antique Greek cities called Acropolis is Acropolis of Athens. This antique holly hill hosts quite important structures like Athena Nike Temple. The most important and largest building in the Acropolis is the Parthenon in the center of this holly hill. Greeks positioned the Acropolis and the Parthenon to a hill so that can be seen from everywhere of the city. The Acropolis hill is approximately 152 meters above sea level.

The government has made significant laws so that this hill, which is so important for the Greek civilization, would not lose its importance. One of them is the building height limit taken by the Greek Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. According to this law, the height of new structures will built nearby Acropolis can not exceed 17 meters (URL-1). The reason why this decision taken was that new architectural projects here have great number of floors. Thanks to this decision, the Parthenon will continue to integrate with the city.

Parthenon in the Sacred Hill
Parthenon in the Sacred Hill

Besides the risky design ideas like making high rise buildings in this historical environment, there are also projects glorifying the Acropolis here. This well-done structures impower the relationship between the hill and the city at the same time. Perhaps the most famous of these structures is Bernard Tschumi’s new Athens Acropolis Museum in Greece.

The New Acropolis Museum of Athens

There was the necessity of a museum in the area to exhibit some of artifacts found on the Acropolis Hill. Additive the archaeological finds unearthed as a result of excavations. Acropolis Museum official website states that this need has been expressed and discussed since the establishment years of Greece (URL-2).

The first museum building was made in the direction of this need in 1865 was located in the sacred hill. This structure had a floor area of only 800 square meters. However, the new artifacts unearthed after the excavations required a larger structure. The second museum building designed for this reason in 1888 is the Little Acropolis Museum. By the 1970s, it was understood that a small museum would be insufficient as the number of visitors increased.

It took almost 34 years to decide on the design of this new museum and who would design it. Authorities organised totally 4 competitions. Those of organised in 1976 and 1979 have remain inconclusive. The Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, wanted to hold another competition in 1989. Unfortunately, the winner project of this competition did not materialized either.

Finally, the 4th competition held up in 2001 concluded. It has paved the way for the design of the Greek Acropolis Museum structure, which attracts the attention of people from all over the world today. This winner project has signatures of Bernard Tschumi, very experienced architect about design in the historical environment, and the Greek architect Michael Photiadis. The museum came into use of visitors on 20 June 2009.

Architectural Review of New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Recommendations and instructions within the competition specification had affected the design of the winner project quite. Some of them also helped form the design. For instance, the requirement of this museum, which was built on the excavation site, for natural light, and the desire of making a relationship with the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon (Akkurt, B. H. 2020)… Moreover, the museum had to have a much larger exhibition area due to new artifacts found in the course of time.

Site view of the Acropolis Museum of Athens
New Acropolis Museum – ©

The new Acropolis Museum is 10 times larger in terms of exhibition areas, compared to the old Acropolis Museum (Yazici M. and Ozturk S.D). Additionally, the building has an area of 25 thousands square meters.

When we examine the building in the manner of its concept, we’ll saw that architects divided the mass into 3 main parts. The relationship of these each three parts with the city have become differentiate. In addition, it’s possible to say that the architectural characteristics of each section have changed in terms of the elements they exhibit. Bernard Tschumi has shaped the architectural design of the building around the exhibition scenario of the works.

Main Parts of Acropolis

In the first section rising on the columns, artifacts unearthed from the excavation area are exhibited where they are found. Visitors can examine these works thanks to gallery spaces opened in the floor and the glass used in the floor.

In the second part, the facade directly faces the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon Temple. In this way, the Parthenon Temple has also turned into an exhibition item. On the third floor with mezzanine storey, there are artifacts from the Classical and Antique periods. Lastly, On the last floor, there are the Parthenon frieze and sculptures brought from the Acropolis Hill.

It has functions such as cafe-restaurant and sales place. On the facade of Parthenon Gallery in the top floor, architects used special glasses so that the light doesn’t harm works inside.

Parthenon Gallery of Acropolis Museum
Parthenon Gallery of Acropolis Museum

Artifacts exhibited at the ground level are the most important part of the museum’s design. Because, Tschumi designed the Acropolis of Athens directly upon an excavation area. He has showed a very special design approach to display these artifacts and to prevent the building from damaging remains. Accordingly, the museum rises on more than 100 reinforced concrete columns at this elevation. By this way, he aimed to cause as low as possible damage to the remains.

At the entrance, there’s an eave rising on huge circular reinforced concrete legs and defining the entrance. The top surface of the eave functions as a city terrace. Visitors can see the ruins without going inside thanks to the space opened in the floor under the eaves. Eventually, relationships of the building with the terrain, the city, the Parthenon, interior and exterior spaces have helped shape the Acropolis Museum architecture every time.

The entrance entablature of museum
The entrance gallery


Consequently, a well-designed architectural building should visit various experiences upon its users. Athens Acropolis Museum also has a route begins with the eave on the ground and allows to see archaeological ruins from gallery spaces. This route continues with the city terrace, archaic period artifacts, and the exhibition of the Parthenon Temple. In this way, the museum takes its users on an uninterrupted tour between the past and the present of the city in a historical process.

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