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.newacropolismuseum.gr/eng.