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The task of finding an appropriate figure for the new German Chancellery in Berlin was a difficult task. It had to demonstrate the presence of what is now the most powerful nation in Europe. Yet the Speer precedent could not be ignored; a respectable modesty was required, but not the underemphasized gentility of the present Bonn building.

The site, on a bend of the river Spree, was the subject of an urban design competition won in 1993 by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank. They proposed a single bold move, uniting the two sides of the river in a linear composition which connects the formal and office parts of the Chancellery to the Chancellor's garden (and possibly residence) on the Tiergarten side, while relating east to the new office accommodation for MPs and their staff and south to Foster's revamped Reichstag: the parliament building. Symbolically, the composition links the two formerly sundered halves of the city with the Chancellery on the old eastern side and the garden (linked by a footbridge to the west). The head of the German government will be a neighbour of the head of state whose formal residence, the Schloss Bellevue is nearby in the park.

Schultes and Frank admit to being rather surprised (though of course extremely pleased) when in 1995, after a great deal of debate, they won the next competition, for the design of the Chancellery itself. Their proposal consisted of making two parallel wings five stories high which contain the offices and administration. The 18m facades are broken up by 13 winter-gardens onto which the 310 offices look and from which they derive additional oxygen from plants. As is usual these days in Germany, all offices will have openable windows, either to the outside, or to the winter-gardens, and there will be an elaborate system of louvres to control internal climate.

Between the two ranks of offices will be the formal parts of the building: the conference hall and main reception room and their ancillary spaces. This element has proved difficult to resolve, Schultes and Frank proposed a relatively modest central block, with cabinet towers gently emerging over the administrative wings. But Chancellor Kohl was determined to cut more of a figure and the central block has been made square in plan and lofted up to make what he called 'an urban landmark of the highest order'. Huge arcs penetrate north and south fronts of the box, giving a completely different scale to the whole affair, the north one looking slap bang at the Lehrter Bahnhof (p44) across the river.

Visitors will approach from the east to the cour d'honneur between the office wings. They will enter the huge foyer which forms most of the ground floor of the central block before ascending to the international conference hall and reception rooms on the first floor. To the west, a formal front looks out over the river and the garden which is private, though the public will be able to use promenades on each side of the strip. There is a suggestion that the chancellor's residence should be built in the garden, but at the moment there is a desire not to seem too ostentatious, and the chancellor will have a relatively modest flat in the central block, intended for no more than overnight use. Newfound modesty has penetrated other parts of the programme as well, and the architects are finding it hard to finish and furnish the building as they had hoped. Even so, when it opens next year, the Chancellery will surely display the noble and apparently effortless command over light and material that the architects have demonstrated so elegantly in Treptow (p52). P.D.

Architect Axel Schultes Architekten

Project design Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank
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Title Annotation:design and construction of headquarters of German government in Berlin
Author:Davey, Peter
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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