Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin

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Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Roughly a dozen years after Daniel Libeskind’s extension to the Jewish Museum Berlin opened to great acclaim in 2001, the museum is set to unveil its latest collaboration with the architect, the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin.  The official opening, for which Mr. Libeskind will travel toGermany, will take place on the evening of Saturday, November 17.

The 25,000-square-foot, one-story Academy stands on the site of Berlin’s one-time flower market, whose shell undergirds the new structure. Located across from the museum proper, the Academy brings together its library, archives and education center and offers additional office, storage and support space for the museum.

Since the museum’s reopening in 2001, its public and educational programs have more than doubled. In addition to 7,000 guided tours each year, the museum offers more than 400 educational programs ranging from workshops for children to training courses for museum professionals. The new facility will house these programs as well as symposia, conferences, lectures and seminars.

The museum’s library and archives have also moved to the Academy. The archives, which contain both printed and audio-visual materials, have also doubled in size over the last decade while the library’s holdings have tripled.

In-Between Spaces

Daniel Libeskind’s design for the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin links the building to the museum’s other structures and open spaces, both thematically and structurally.

One of the first things visitors see upon entering the piazza leading to the building are the words of the great medieval Jewish scholar and philosopher Moses Maimonides. His famous adjuration, “Hear the truth, whoever speaks it,” is splashed across the left side of the façade, a reminder that those who delve into history must be prepared to accept what they find regardless of the source. The five languages in which the charge is given – English, German, Hebrew, Arabic and the original Judeo-Arabic of medievalSpain– reinforce that message while also suggesting the universal nature of truth.

On the right, a large downward-sloping cube bursts through the façade. Its unusual contours echo the jagged shape of the museum’s 2001 extension, designed by Mr. Libeskind and visible across the street. That shape is also a variation on a theme found in the museum’sGardenofExileand Glass Courtyard, also designed by Mr. Libeskind and opened 2007 and 2005, respectively.

Two large skylights, visible from the piazza, rest atop the cube. Shaped like the Hebrew letters Alef and Bet (A and B), they are another reminder of the importance of learning and knowledge to the human experience and of their centrality to Jewish life.

After passing through a large gash in the cube that serves as the Academy’s entryway, visitors are decanted into transitional space comprising two more huge cubes. Thrust forward at odd angles, the cubes, which house the library and the auditorium, form a jagged triumvirate with the rear end of entrance cube.

The movement and interaction suggested by the cubes’ shape and placement and by the seemingly rough-hewn timber (actually radiate pine timber) used to fabricate them suggests the sort of crates used to transport precious objects, including books. They also suggest Noah’sArk, which preserved the most precious thing of all – living beings, in all their splendid variety – during the most important voyage in biblical history.

“In-Between Spaces,” Mr. Libeskind’s name for his design, describes the transitional area among the three cubes. It also alludes to the different perspectives offered by that unique vantage point. Standing on that spot, looking into the hall and out on to museum’s other structures and spaces, visitors are ideally placed to reflect on the museum’s larger purpose and their own experience of it.

Said Mr. Libeskind: “My ongoing collaboration with the Jewish MuseumBerlinis a source of tremendous professional and personal pride. Each project offers a fresh chance to illuminate Jewish history and culture, to understand the tragedies and the triumphs, and to celebrate the resilience, creativity and erudition that have been Jews’ enduring legacy.”

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