This article is part of the feature „The Berlin Palace 2.0. Concrete and Baroque

Architectural dynamics and reinterpretation

3 min read

With its three magnificent baroque facades and imposing portals, the Humboldt Forum’s architecture blends in beautifully with its surroundings – as if it had always stood in Berlin’s historical city centre. However, this “Berlin Palace” is a radical new building full of exciting architectural juxtapositions, references to the eventful history of the site and modern interpretations designed by the Italian architect Franco Stella.

The basis for the competition in which Franco Stella was unanimously awarded the first prize in 2008 – there was no second prize – was a reconstruction resolution passed by the German Bundestag in 2002. A large cross-party majority followed the recommendation of the international Expert Commission “Historische Mitte Berlin” for a museum complex, knowledge centre and meeting place inside the cubature and behind the baroque facades of the Berlin Palace.

The process up to the laying of the foundation stone in 2013 was accompanied by a widely held social debate that is still ongoing today. For some, the reconstruction of the baroque facades designed by Andreas Schlüter – commissioned by Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg and driven by his intention to express his rule in architectural terms when he became King Frederick I – also means the restoration of a historical urban environment, as the design of the facades is directly linked to the buildings on Museuminsel and Unter den Linden. For others, this focus on the past is difficult to understand. Then there is also the debate about the demolition of the Palast der Republic and its subsequent cultural use. History has been written on this site several times over; this was the venue where Germany’s reunification process actually took place.

On the basis of its complex and not unambiguous evolutionary history, we have consolidated contributions on the architecture’s fascinating contradictions and links in this dossier. With a passage that leads right through the building and the Schlüterhof, Franco Stella will be unlocking new public urban spaces. The eastern facade, the Schlüterhof, the Spree terraces and the foyer – interpreted in a modern way – harbour a huge potential for meetings, exchange and contemporary events. Horst Bredekamp, one of the Humboldt Forum’s founding directors, explains the interaction between the opposite poles and bridges the gap between Franco Stella’s “razionalismo” and the appreciation of the way the Berlin Palace has been architecturally embedded in the historical significance of the architectural arrangements with great success. With Bertold Just’s contribution, we are honouring the masterful achievements of the artists and craftsmen who reconstructed the baroque facades. This traditional craftsmanship is in total contrast to the modern technology and sustainable energy supply that characterise the building. And, not least, there is the modern art behind the facades, which encourages us to confront our colonial legacy and establishes links – particularly in the context of how the ethnological collections in the permanent exhibitions were handled.