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THE new Acrop­o­lis Mu­seum in Athens is not of­fi­cially open but has al­ready po­larised opin­ion. I note re­ac­tions among my group of preview vis­i­tors with in­ter­est. Judg­ments are formed on first im­pres­sions and the build­ing presents as a se­verely mod­ern con­crete, glass and steel ed­i­fice at odds with the ru­ins it strives to hon­our. Few of us are en­thu­si­as­tic.

The mu­seum’s Swiss ar­chi­tect, Bernard Tschumi, makes no ex­ter­nal ref­er­ence to the nearby Acrop­o­lis: no mar­ble, no col­umns, no hint of the clas­si­cal. On the in­side, how­ever, he pays homage in a num­ber of ways. For ex­am­ple, stairs ris­ing from one level to an­other echo the steps lead­ing to the Parthenon. Such re­la­tion­ships were not eas­ily achieved.

The bril­liance of the build­ing lies in its place­ment. It hov­ers over an arche­o­log­i­cal site that was known to ex­ist and had to be pre­served and re­vealed. This im­per­a­tive has de­ter­mined the mu­seum’s shape. Thick glass floors ex­pose an­cient do­mes­tic plumb­ing, mo­saic floors and everyday ob­jects to pub­lic view.

The Ar­chaic, Clas­si­cal and Ro­man eras will be rep­re­sented here but at this stage ex­hibits are packed and stat­ues stand awk­wardly, await­ing fi­nal place­ment. The mar­bles im­pe­ri­ously re­moved by Lord El­gin in the 18th cen­tury are con­spic­u­ously ab­sent, rep­re­sented as pale plas­ter ef­fi­gies where the real ones should be, and the ques­tion of their re­turn by the Bri­tish Mu­seum re­mains unan­swered.

In situ: Bernard Tschumi at the Acrop­o­lis Mu­seum

What­ever the out­come, this light-filled space, its ex­hibits and fa­cil­i­ties will stim­u­late vis­i­tors. A vast ter­race that looks on to the Acrop­o­lis is bare dur­ing my pre-open­ing visit but is planned as a cafe with what must surely be one of the world’s best views. What bet­ter place to ful­mi­nate on mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture and the plun­der­ing poms of old? Leonie Coombes


The new mu­seum, 300m from the Acrop­o­lis, is ex­pected to open in the north­ern spring. More: www.newacrop­olis­mu­

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