ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greece’s culture ministry on Wednesday announced plans for a major renovation of the National Archaeological Museum to expand exhibition space at the Athens site, which houses what is considered the world’s most important collection of Greek antiquities.
The four-year project is being led by British architect Sir David Chipperfield, whose major works include the restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin and the design of the east building of the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Chipperfield said a 20,000-square-meter (215,000-square-foot) new building was planned around the existing 19th-century Neoclassical building and would include new above and below-ground exhibition areas, garden areas, and a new front entrance.
“Our architectural approach was to create a base that grows out of the existing building and is therefore fundamentally connected to the 19th-century building. But at the same time, it’s developing into a powerful piece of architecture,” Chipperfield said during an event at the Athens Museum late Wednesday.
“The challenge, of course, is balancing those two things.”
The National Archaeological Museum, Greece’s largest, has more than 11,000 exhibits spanning thousands of years. Its treasures include the 3,500-year-old golden burial mask known as the Mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera Mechanism, a device for tracking the sun, moon, and planets.
But most visitors to Athens prefer the centrally located Acropolis Museum, designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and opened in 2009. This is where Greece hopes to house the Parthenon sculpturesalso known as the Elgin Marbles currently in the British Museum in London.
The Acropolis Museum attracts about 2 million people each year, about four times the number who travel through the city to visit the National Archaeological Museum.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hopes that this will change with the conversion.
“More exhibition space will be created for the magnificent exhibits from one of the most important collections in the world. Today we exhibit less than 10% of what we have in our warehouses,” Mitsotakis said at Wednesday’s event.
“It has always concerned me that a little over 500,000 visitors come to the museum each year when it houses such an incredible wealth of world heritage sites,” he said.
Chipperfield will be collaborating on the Athens project with Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis, Wirtz International Landscape Architects from Belgium and German architect and structural engineer Werner Sobek.