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Berlin's new landmark -- the new exhibition hall of the German Historical Museum.Image: AP

New I.M. Pei Building Opens in Berlin

May 25, 2003

It may not be quite as recognizable as the Louvre’s glass pyramid in Paris, but Berlin this weekend gained its own glass and steel treasure with the opening of a new exhibition hall designed by star architect I. M. Pei.


Almost five years after celebrated Chinese-born, U.S.-based architect Ieoh Ming Pei wowed Berliners with his plans for a small extension to the German Historical Museum, visitors can finally walk through its spiral glass tower.

Located at the heart of Berlin’s historic Mitte district, the €54 million ($64 million) structure has a massive glass facade that opens out on to the rear of the 300 year-old baroque Zeughaus or armory, which today houses the German Historical Museum.

Officially opened on Friday in the presence of prominent politicians, the 4,700 square meter exhibition hall was hailed by museum director Hans Ottomeyer as "a perfect design."

Best known for his designs of the spectacular glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre Museum and the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, 86-year-old Pei was first awarded the contract eight years ago by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. "All my hopes have been fulfilled," Kohl said in a recent interview.

Der Architekt Ieoh Ming Pei
Architect I.M. PeiImage: AP

Pei (photo), whose teachers included legendary Bauhaus masters Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer is one of the most-celebrated architects in contemporary times. In 1983 he received the prestigious Pritzker Prize -- the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Architecture.

“Architecture should seduce people”

In a recent interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Pei put his latest creation in context: "The architecture should seduce people to move through the whole building full of curiosity and pleasure. I even want to tempt them to the top-most floor through ever more steps, new views."

Pei also revealed that he had only agreed to designing a relatively small building that would house special exhibitions because the area was dominated by towering architectural wonders by legendary German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Prussia’s most famous architect.

Pei, who has studied Schinkel’s works and still counts him among his greatest role models, said the project presented him with three challenges: the new building had to be integrated in the classical ensemble around it, it had to be connected with the baroque building of the German Historical Museum and lastly, it had to be a magnet for visitors.

"It’s small and yet has to achieve an enormous influence," Pei told Die Zeit.

The new building opens with a temporary exhibition called "The Idea of Europe: Concepts for an Eternal Peace" which offers a trip through Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. The spread of Christianity, Charlemagne’s reign and the Crusades are some of the highlights.

In addition, the museum hosts the first-ever retrospective on Ieoh Ming Pei’s life’s work, which includes sketches, photographs and models from his work on three continents.

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