Humboldt Forum
© SHF / Franco Stella
Rendering of the east facade. © SHF / Franco Stella

December 20, 2018

Banking on innovation! A new urban space is emerging along the river spree

by Mike Kühn

The Humboldt Forum is there to be experienced – and not just indoors. There will be discoveries to be made in the outside areas, too. The newly designed riverbank of the Spree on the eastern side of the Palace is just one example.

For centuries the Palace stood directly on the river, so there was no public access to the Spree riverbank along the eastern facade. As with the Berlin cathedral, a narrow passageway was all that existed, but it was not for public use. The East German Palast der Republik was similarly constructed right on the River Spree, leaving only a small path running alongside it. Now, for the first time, there will be an urban square on this site, thanks to the design by architect Franco Stella, who, rather than rebuilding the pre-Baroque section of the Palace, set his modern East Wing back from the riverbank.

The landscaping of this area, as one of the open-air spaces around the Humboldt Forum, is in the hands of the local authority, the city of Berlin. The construction work will be carried out by DSK Deutsche Stadt- und Grundstücksentwicklungsgesellschaft mbH as part of the Hauptstadt Berlin – Parlamentsund Regierungsviertel (Capital City Berlin – Parliament and Government District) development scheme.

In the 2012 competition brief for the Humboldt Forum’s open-air spaces, the city-state of Berlin laid out clear strategic guidelines. The new areas around the Humboldt Forum should invite people to linger and enjoy themselves, but above all ensure a safe and accessible route alongside the Spree.

Rendering of the east facade. © SHF / Franco Stella

The winning design by Berlin-based landscape architects bbz envisages overcoming the difference in height between the entrance level of the Humboldt Forum and the lower level of the riverbank by means of a combined staircase and ramp system. A retaining wall structure will create two large ramps to provide barrier-free access to the riverbank from Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse to the north or Rathausbrücke to the south.

The northern ramp on Liebknechtstrasse is a good eighty metres long, overcoming a difference in height of over 4.4 metres. The southern ramp, at around 90 metres long and with an elevation of approximately 4.8 metres, connects Rathausbrücke and the area adjacent to the river. At the Liebknechtbrücke bridge it will also be possible to access the riverbank via a generously proportioned staircase.

This will divide the public space in front of the eastern facade of the Humboldt Forum into two sections: the upper level, known as the Spree Balcony, which connects to the ground floor of the Humboldt Forum, and the Spree Terraces below, situated just above the waterline, which provide an inviting setting for visitors to relax.

The view from the Spree Balcony will extend eastwards beyond the Spree to the green expanse of Marx-Engels-Forum, and to the Marienkirche, Alexanderplatz and the Berlin Rathaus. A large restaurant has been earmarked for this corner on the ground floor of the Humboldt Forum, and of course in good weather tables and chairs will be placed outside, too. Visitors will be able to bask in the sun here until the midday heat becomes overpowering, and then they can relax in the shade in the afternoon.

The extended Spree Terraces will allow visitors to promenade directly along the water or linger in the shade of the newly planted weeping willows. Incidentally, the retaining walls will be clad in the same sandstone used for constructing the new riverbank, so that approaching the ensemble from the opposite riverbank will offer a singularly harmonious view of the Humboldt Forum’s eastern side.

Mike Kühn has held the post of project manager for the design of the Humboldt Forum’s surroundings at the urban planning office DSK Deutsche Stadtund Grundstücksentwicklungsgesellschaft since January 2015. As the fiduciary development agency, DSK is charged by the City of Berlin with implementing the design of the outdoor areas around the Humboldt Forum in the context of the development plan for Berlin’s parliamentary and government quarter.

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