Critical (of) Reconstruction

2008.03.02

See also this link to a conference on critical reconstruction and the IBA, in Porto, Portugal, 4th – 8th November: http://berlim-reconstrucaocritica.blogspot.com/.  My original post below:

‘Critical Reconstruction’. A term used to describe the policy for rebuilding post-wall Berlin. The vast areas of waste ground left by the wall zones were to be infilled, by reverting to older street patterns, and by following a set of conservative building codes which limited the height, and (in places) the style of new buildings.

In Pariser Platz, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the building rules seem to have been at their most restrictive, with every new building complying with the required style of horizontal stone banding. Frank Gehry’s Deutsche Bank HQ has had to hide his signature shiny-curvy building behind a singularly uninteresting façade. The rebuilt Hotel Adlon is just an overscaled version of the original, and the recently-completed American Embassy, which has the prime spot overlooking the Tiergarten and the Holocaust Memorial, sets new standards for blandness. The only building that subverts the rules slightly is Michael Wilford’s British Embassy (not saying this just cos I’m a Brit) – angular structures in purple and blue appear to explode from a ‘missing’ section of the plain stone façade.

BA

The vast new buildings of Potsdamer Platz, designed by a string of ‘big name’ architects, are curiously underwhelming;  the whole layout of the site was something of a compromise with the major site owners (I’ll save a rant about that for another day).

But the greatest loss of nerve is the Reichstag. “Surely” you’re thinking, “this is a triumphant rebirth of Germany’s parliament building in an assured high tech intervention by Norman Foster?” Or words to that effect.

Well yes it’s not bad. It’s still one of his best works, with his signature ‘techno bits inserted in an old building’ look, done well. But it could have been something altogether more radical.

I’ve not been able to find a good link or non-copyright-breaching image, so instead, here’s an artist’s impression (the ‘artist’ being me):

The Reichstag - as it could have been

The competition to transform the Reichstag into a new parliament building had three joint winners: Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava and Pi de Bruijn. But all three were subsequently asked to start over based on a much reduced brief, essentially requiring less floor space, contained entirely within the existing structure.

Foster won this ‘second’ competition with the design which was carried through – including the familiar spiral ramps inside a glass dome.

Reichstag

But his original design proposed a colossal independent roof structure, enclosing not only the Reichstag but a large space around it, even spanning across part of the river Spree. A raised podium would have covered the same area, cutting off the lower parts of the original building’s façades. The Reichstag would thus have been only a part, albeit the key element, of a larger whole; a literal representation that the new parliament would stand as something which accepted and incorporated the nation’s past, but at the same time would be something new and open.

It was a strong idea, particularly as the original 19th century building is considered by many to be a bit of a dog’s dinner. It was a not entirely successful attempt to merge a number of disparate styles, and couldn’t better represent the dead end that neoclassicism had reached in the years preceding the birth of modernism. Even its architect, Paul Wallot, admitted that he struggled with an ‘impossible’ task.

There was also the fact that the building was not in its original ‘intact’ state: it had been burned out in the 1930s, shelled by the Russians, and already refurbished in the 1960s.

So as architecture, it didn’t really bear comparison with the government seats of some other nations – Barry and Pugin’s Palace of Westminster, for instance. But in the end, conservatism prevailed, the competition requirements were rewritten to ensure that the building wasn’t radically changed. So that’s what’s now on the postcards.

4 comments

  1. Hey, great sketch of the Reichstag – never knew you were that good – BS normally can’t draw two lines properly. Keep up the good work.

    J.., March 3, 2008
  2. I do like your sketch, and I haven’t seen any of the original Norman Foster ideas, but it does sound a bit like a building under a carport :)

    fiona, May 8, 2012
  3. Around 1995/96, while studying architecture in Boston, I went to a lecture that Calatrava gave at the M.I.T.

    During the lecture he mentioned several times how Foster plagiarized his designs for the Reichstag and how upset he was with Foster.

    Delorean, February 4, 2014
  4. Thanks. I have a Calatrava book that includes his competition entry, and there’s a lot of similarities. Although the Calatrava dome opened up like a flower as I recall.

    admin, February 6, 2014

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