The New Acropolis Museum
Keeping the Elgin Marbles in London Is Now 'Untenable'
Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, 65, designed a new Acropolis Museum for Athens, which will open this weekend. SPIEGEL spoke with him about the end of Great Britain's argument that Greece has no proper home for the Elgin Marbles.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Tschumi, you've designed the new Acropolis Museum, which opens this weekend in Athens about 300 meters from the Parthenon temple, which in turn sits on the Acropolis itself. Your building alludes to the Parthenon. Did the scale of your assignment ever intimidate you?
Tschumi: Yes and no. To take on a project like this, you need to be both humble and arrogant.
SPIEGEL: Where is the architectural reference to the Parthenon?
Tschumi: Nowhere, at least from the outside. I think it's out of the question to pretend some kind of kinship with such a famous building, at least in aesthetic terms. I found it appropriate simply to respond to the prominent landmark in a minimalist way.
SPIEGEL: Meaning what?
Tschumi: I used transparency and the view. The building consists of three nested parts, and at the top you have this wonderful view of the Acropolis. Because this section is so transparent, the antique sculptures on display will be lit the way they were lit in the Parthenon -- primarily by sunlight.
SPIEGEL: Bundled with the construction of this museum was a big political demand: It was meant to be such an excellent showroom for antiques that the British government would be prepared to return the famous Elgin Marbles to Greece. Parts of this frieze were stolen 200 years ago from the Acropolis by a British nobleman and sold to the British Museum. Do you believe the British will really send them back?
Tschumi: I don't know when, but the time will come. So far the reason for not returning them has been that Athens had no suitable space to preserve the Marbles. This argument no longer exists.
SPIEGEL: The Marbles are among the most important pieces in the British Museum's collection. Is it truly appropriate to bring them back to Greece after such a long time?
Tschumi: Of course. Just imagine an ancient sculpture with its head in Athens, its torso in London and its feet in Paris. It's an untenable situation.