Following re-unification, texts of German authors previously dispersed to east and west have been brought together in this new museum. The entrance sequence is brilliant. The visitor crosses an open terrace overlooking the valley, then negotiates a series of shallow steps to enter through giant hardwood doors. It is at the moment of descent that the building shows its pedigree – a sense of a progression to somewhere beyond, combined with a rich but selective palette of materials and illuminated with subdued top lighting. The route concludes in the permanent collection. Here glass cases containing original manuscripts form a magical flickering landscape.
There are many things to praise about this building - the architect's control and discrimination in the choice of materials has by now become a signature - but above all it is in the handling of the 'difficult whole' that the building excels. This is a building that is simultaneously rich and restrained, a trick Chipperfield pulls off as well as any architect working today. But it is in the handling of the ‘difficult whole’ that the building excels.
To draw people to look at books and manuscripts they cannot read more than a page or two of (except by arrangement) was a tough brief. Chipperfield has responded by making a building that is in itself a half of the visitor’s experience; if not a temple then a shrine to the soul of a literate nation.