Foster & Partners’ rebuilt and remodelled Reichstag building in Berlin opened to general acclaim this week, but not entirely without controversy
There were some protests from German building workers about the use of cheaper foreign labour, and there was still disagreement about the name of the building, with its connotations of past empires. Not everybody fell for the design, in particular the architectural correspondent of Die Zeit, who claimed that parts of the chamber ‘exude the kind of charm we normally associate with the branch offices of regional health insurance companies’.
But this was a minority view - most observers were impressed by the design, the many artworks, and the references to the building’s history. Chancellor Schroder thanked Sir Norman for the ‘courage and delicacy with which he has combined traditional and modern elements’: he might have added for bringing the project in at about £200 million, about £50 million less than it would have been if built by exclusively German firms.
The most successful symbolic element of the design, the giant glazed cupola which brings in light to the debating chamber, was originally resisted by Sir Norman, but the client insisted on it following a competition which produced three finalists. The original Foster design, a giant canopy dwarfing the existing building, was dropped in favour of a more restrained approach. But while the dome has produced the visual fireworks, the green heating system, in some ways the star of the design (aj 25.2.99), is hidden below ground.