The glass dome of the Reichstag building has become an integral part of Berlin’s cityscape. With his design for the reconstruction of the Reichstag, British architect Norman Foster turned the building into a symbol of German unity as well as civic openness and parliamentary transparency. It has served as the meeting place of the German Federal Parliament since 1999.
After a 1991 parliamentary resolution to relocate the reunified country’s legislative and executive branches to Germany to Berlin, the Reichstag was fundamentally transformed. Originally designed by architect Paul Wallot, the neo-Renaissance-style Reichstag building had been erected at the end of the 19th century and housed the parliaments of both the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. The disastrous Reichstag fire of 1933 was used by the Nazis as a pretext for seizing power, although they later used its damaged shell only as an exhibition space and air-raid shelter. An initial restoration and remodelling in 1960s style was undertaken by Paul Baumgarten and completed in 1973, but the building remained without any real use, caught between two competing political systems. Only after reunification did the building return to its position at the political centre, this time of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Pritzker Prize Laureate Sir Norman Foster won an international competition for the project, and then proceeded to successfully transform the building in a way that convincingly fuses tradition and modernity. He exposed large parts of the building’s historic fabric and gave it a high degree of transparency and lightness. He opened up visual axes, removed the built-in fixtures from the 1960s, and created bright, large spaces with a clean, straightforward design. Evidence of the damage caused to the building by the Reichstag fire, the Second World War and earlier reconstruction work was partly integrated into the new design as a reminder of its eventful history since construction.
The signature glass-and-steel dome recalls the historical original, but, at 23 metres high, is considerably lower than Wallot’s dome. Inside, spiral ramps offset by 180 degrees wind their way up in a double helix to a viewing platform that offers a panoramic view of the city. The parliamentary building has become a Berlin landmark that attracts about one million visitors every year. [DB/DK]
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