Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rough Draft: Reichstag Building

Originally built in 1894, the Reichstag building in Germany was designed by Paul Wallot, winner of the 1882 architectural contest, in the Italian High Renaissance style. Covering an area of about 13, 290 square meters, the building was used to house the Reichstag, the first German parliament. In 1933 the building was severely damaged by a fire during the start of World War II. Under the Nazi regime from 1933-1945, the building remained in ruins and it wasn’t until 1999 that the British architect Norman Foster rebuilt the Reichstag building. His remodeling and modernization of the building included the new dome which has become a strong attraction of the building in which visitors are able to explore.

Up until the fire of 1933, the main purpose of Reichstag building was to serve as a place for the first parliament of the German empire to meet. The building was seen as a political commodity until 1933 when it was set on fire and nearly destroyed. Although it is still unsure who started the fire, “some say it was [Marines van der] Lubbe because of a communist plot, while others say the Nazis did it to create an incident in order to come to power.” Regardless of who started the fire, the National Socialists Party (NSDAP) took over the Reichstag from 1933-1945 and by July, 1933, the “Reichstag contained only members of the Nazi party.” Hitler, hating the historic parliament building, “used the Reichstag to hold propaganda speeches, knowing that it was a degradation for the former parliament.” As much as he disliked the symbolic nature of the building, he was rather fond of the architecture and thus did not destroy it.

At the beginning of World War II, the building served as a German air force base with a bunker constructed next to it. In the years following the commencement of WWII, all of the windows were removed from the building and it was “transformed into a fortress.” As the war progressed, the building was constantly under siege and became the main target for the Red Army. For the soviets, the Reichstag building “symbolized Hitler and Nazi Germany and by conquering the Reichstag it would symbolize the soviet victory over Nazi Germany.”

After WWII, the fa├žade and interior of the building was completely destroyed and it had become a symbol for the defeated Germany. The cupola, proving to be a danger for the Reichstag, was blown up in 1954. In 1956, it was decided that the Reichstag building was to be rebuilt with the intent to “stand as a symbol that Germany was serious about reunification.” While plans to rebuild the Reichstag were underway, it was still uncertain as to what the purpose of the building was going to be. In another architectural contest in 1960-1961, Paul Baumgartner won the responsibility for the reconstruction of the building.

During the Cold War and the division of Germany, the building was no longer located in the heart of the city and thus became a symbol for the divided Germany rather than a symbol for the German people. Since 1964, parts of the Reichstag were completed so that some meetings and conferences were possible, however the German government decided to conduct their meetings in the Berlin Congress Hall and the Town Hall in fear that they would not be safe in the Reichstag building. Eventually, it was decided that the building should hold the exhibition “Questions on German History” which lasted more than twenty years.

The Reichstag dome sits on top of the Reichstag building and allows for a 360 view of Berlin. The original dome, designed by Wallot, was used to enlarge the space of the parliamentary building. After the destruction of the building, the dome was rebuilt in 1995 and completed in 1999 by Foster. The new design of the dome symbolizes the unity that Germany is focusing on for the future. The design is also environmentally friendly as the spiral of mirrors in the center of the dome allows natural sunlight to be used instead of artificial light.


patrick lee lucas said...

if this is a building about UNITY how do you justify such a concept with all its seemingly unrelated parts. foster introduced the last of a series of changes to the building and attempted to bring the scheme together. might we understand his work as something about stitching a story together. what would that story be? i think you need to turn your analysis around, BEGINNING with foster's contribution and then peeling backwards, but first start with a statement that explains that this is a building about layers that took more than 100 years to gain them all through various political, cultural, and architectural lenses. keep pushing the actual analysis of the building privileging that exercise over a descriptive one. make sure you also talk about the building's interior.

Molly Jacques said...

You've done a nice job explaining the history behind the building. I think an analytical look at the meaning behind why they used the high renaissance style and how that reflects the German parliament and function of the building would be ideal.

I'm doing the Manhattan Municipal building which uses concrete and classical/renaissance influences similar to yours. Such styles in the U.S. reflected democracy and numerous countries across Europe used such styles of buildings when their governments turned democratic. Maybe you can research the German government a bit and maybe there is a connection to why this building was built in such a style.