Background of this research project was the 1882 Schinkel Competition and the “Open Competition for the Development of Museum Island in Berlin”, held in 1883/84. Fifty-two architects and architects’ associations took part in the latter competition in 1883 with the goal to develop and select a masterplan for an ensemble of museums on Spree Island in Berlin’s city center. The resulting blueprints for the redesign of Berlin’s Museum Island are today held at the Architecture Museum of the Technische Universität Berlin and served as the basis for this research project.


Poster Museumsvisionen Design by Gustav Bohnsack on the architectural competition for the Museum Island in 1883 published by Hermann Rückwardt | © Architekturmuseum TU Berlin  Ludwig Schupmann: Motto "Labore et Constantia" Schnitt des Abgussmuseums und der Architektursäle | Copyright: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin August Hermann Spielberg und Bernhard Kühn: Motto "Pallas Athene" |Source: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin | Copyright: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin Exhibition "Museumsvisionen" at Bauakademie at Schinkelplatz Berlin | © Topoi Exhibition "Museumsvisionen" at Bauakademie at Schinkelplatz Berlin | © Topoi

These original sources offer insight into attitudes held at the end of the 19th century towards architecture, Prussian cultural politics, and exhibition strategies for antiques, plaster casts, paintings, and sculptures. Between 2013 and 2015, a team of researchers at the Institute for Art History and Historical Urban Studies lead by Bénédicte Savoy, Hans-Dieter Nägelke (Director of the TU Berlin Architecture Museum), and Topoi fellow Nikolaus Bernau organized the international conference and exhibition “Museum Envisioned” on the different dimensions of the competition at the Bauakademie at Schinkelplatz.

Together with the project leaders, a group of 15 students set out to reconstruct the architectural competition during the Summer Semester 2014 project seminar “Museum Visions.”  The students analyzed the original source material from the perspectives of both architectural and cultural history. Guest lecturers provided historical context for the project, presenting research on other comparable national and international competitions. Particular focus was placed both on the German Empire’s strategies of urban planning and their strategies of staging of the Royal Prussian Collections.

The results of this research were presented in July 2015 at the international conference “Museum Envisioned.” The conference positioned the Berliner Museum Island competition within a context of other 19th century architectural competitions for museums across Europe, North America, and the former colonies. In doing so, “Museum Envisioned” provided an opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange on this little researched field at the intersection of museum and architectural history. The papers presented and discussed during the conference focused on a wide variety of topics – from competition as a means of self-presentation of the bourgeois society, to the cultural, scientific, and artistic competencies represented in the splendor of the designs, to questions of national and regional pride.


Neighboring the (re)construction site of the Berliner Stadtschloss and Museum Island, the exhibition space of the Bauakademie at Schinkelplatz provided an ideal setting for the exhibition “Museum Visions. The Competition to Expand the Berlin Museum Island 1883/84”. The original competition drawings served as the focal point of the exhibition, and were exhibited within the context of architectural competitions and cultural and museum history. Visitors to the exhibition that lasted from September 16 to October 11, 2015 were also invited to learn more about the ways in which architects approached the display of the historical museum collections, including the Pergamon Altar, the so-called Olympiasammlung, and the collection of the plaster casts. The comprehensive exhibition catalog brought together commentaries from the participating students, the research team, and selected guests. 

Nikolaus Bernau, Hans-Dieter Nägelke and Bénédicte Savoy (Eds.),
Museumsvisionen. Der Wettbewerb zur Erweiterung der Berliner Museumsinsel 1883/84,
Kiel: Verlag Ludwig, 2015

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