Design for federal center hailed for 'Prussian' traits

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

March 18, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- The Germans have picked for their new federal government center here a clear, clean, urbane, non-monumental design that binds together east and west Berlin and -- symbolically -- the nation.

The winning proposal for this "parliamentary quarter" could almost be called modest -- if it didn't sprawl over about 153 acres on both sides of a loop in the Spree River and bring together major branches of the German government.

"My goal was to avoid everything too strange or monumental," said Axel Schultes, the Berlin architect who recently won the international Spreebogen competition with his proposal for the site.

Destined to be the German equivalent of the Federal Triangle in Washington, the new parliamentary quarter is being built to accommodate the move of the federal government from Bonn to Berlin.

The Spreebogen is a curve ("bogen" in German) in the Spree that runs roughly a half-mile west from the Reichstag, the old German parliament building north of the Tiergarten, Berlin's great park.

The Spreebogen competition drew 836 entries from 54 countries, including a proposal from Uwe Drost and Doris Kim Sung Associates of Hyattsville, Md.

Designated for the site are the office of the chancellor, the head of government in Germany; the Bundesrat, a kind of upper house appointed by the states; a national citizens forum; government and party offices; and administration and service buildings.

The Bundestag once again will be housed in the neoclassic Reichstag. A separate contest is being held for the "conversion" of the Reichstag building.

The Spreebogen plan submitted by Mr. Schultes and his partner, Charlotte Frank, modulates structure and space in a "bar" along an east-west axis that stretches across the bend in the Spree like a string on a bow.

Praised for its orderly "Prussian rationality" and its "Prussian strength," the Schultes 'bar" lines up the chancellor's office, a small garden for the chancellor, the citizens forum, a building housing party and committee meeting halls, and a parliamentary office building.

The Schultes design puts the Bundesrat in a C-shaped building opposite the Reichstag on a busy plot now used mostly by Turkish picnickers grilling kebabs during the summer.

Mr. Schultes, whose trademark is his turned-up, unbuttoned collar, was lauded for the "Berlin quality" of his plan and for not "nibbling" away at the Tiergarten.

His projected low-rise buildings generally stay within the traditional 72-foot rooftop height of the typical Berlin apartment block. And his design actually extends the Tiergarten into the parliamentary quarter and gives the famous Berlin strollers paths along the Spree.

Mr. Schultes, who won about $160,000 for his Spreebogen design, finished among the third-place group in the Reichstag competition.

The Reichstag judges were unable to agree on a single first-place winner, so they picked three architects for a runoff: Sir Norman Foster of London, Santiago Calatrava of Zurich, Switzerland, and Pi de Bruijn of Amsterdam. Each won $75,000.

Sir Norman has proposed a giant flat-roofed glass canopy over the entire Reichstag. Mr. Calatrava designed a transparent, postmodern, egg-shaped dome. Mr. de Bruijn added two buildings and put the Bundestag chamber in a sort of great saucer.

The entire parliamentary project is supposed to be finished in 1998, but it is unclear whether Bonn will be ready to come to Berlin by then.

In its enthusiasm over the reunification of East and West Germany, parliament voted in June 1991 to make Berlin the capital of all Germany again. Since then, costs have soared (the Spreebogen project alone may cost $2 billion), the economy has stagnated, and the enthusiasm has waned.

And bureaucrats, comfortable in their burgherish life in Bonn -- that "federal village" on the Rhine -- have been dragging their feet at the prospect of moving to raucous, crowded, costly and cosmopolitan Berlin.

But Chancellor Helmut Kohl has promised to move here next year. He has picked out a suitable residence at the lovely Villa Borsig beside a lake across from the Tegel airport. And where the chancellor goes, the government follows, more or less dutifully.

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