The Netherlands Embassy by Rem Koolhas is a cubical structure with irregularities that facilitate a better understanding of Berlin, expressing divergent ideas about how the city with its complexity, heaviness, opacity, and beauty. It combines Berlin’s rules and standards with Dutch features.  It is located in an area of Berlin’s channels, on the Spree river banks.

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin by Rem Koolhaas: In Between nature and architecture - Sheet2
Netherlands Embassy_©https://oma.eu

Projects details
Architect: Rem Koolhas
Built in: 1997-2003
Floors: 8
Land Area: 8,500 m2
Floor Area: 1,500 m2
Built-up Area: 4,800 m2
Location: Berlin-mitte, Rolandufer/Klosterstrasse, Berlín, Germany

Concept

Rem Koolhas faced a challenge while designing the building. According to the rules, the building is to be developed within the block’s perimeter. However, the client’s functional needs were extensive. Therefore, Rem Koolhas solved it by designing the cubical structure (that fits well within the parameter according to the rules) with overlapping functions (the client’s needs). 

In this building, a continuous spiral movement encompasses eight floors of the embassy. Like the Guggenheim Museum in New York, this building is also connected via a ramp and an elevator. The circulation inside the building brings the users to relate to the context,

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin by Rem Koolhaas: In Between nature and architecture - Sheet3
Conceptual Form_©https://oma.eu/projects/netherlands-embassy

Design

The total program is 8.500m2; 4.800m2 for offices, 1,500m2 housing, and 2.200m2 for parking. The embassy cuts the single structure implied by Berlin’s regulations into two parts: a cube accommodating offices, and a wall – the same height as the cube (27m) and only semi-opaque – surrounding the cube on two sides, housing embassy residences. 

Four pedestrian bridges span the courtyard and link the cube with the wall at varying levels. The building has eight floors. It is just one trajectory path that is rotated at different levels to develop the form. The reason it is designed as an isolated cube is to provide safety for the users. 

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin by Rem Koolhaas: In Between nature and architecture - Sheet5
Trajectory path_©https://miesarch.com/work/1909

The structure’s most important objective is the internal ramp travel hub, which is entirely separate from the structural exterior walls. All spaces are organized inside the cube along the ramp’s route, extending the public space. It passes through the eight floors up and down, defining the internal communication, which combines levels with ramps. The spiral movement is called Das Trajekt. 

The path serves as the main conduit for ventilation, resulting in fresh air to the offices. From the entrance, the trajectory leads to the library, followed by meeting rooms, the offices, the fitness room, and finally, the restaurant on the roof terrace. The primary air duct along the trajectory, from which fresh air percolates to the offices, is taken from the double plenum facade. This concept is part of a strategy to integrate more functions into a single element.

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin by Rem Koolhaas: In Between nature and architecture - Sheet4
Section of the building_©https://miesarch.com/work/1909

When entering the site through the pedestrian entry, a courtyard is located in the gap between the building and the L-shaped structure. This courtyard is known as Prins Claus Ziall Hall, which is a multipurpose space divided into several parts to accommodate different events. 

Another element is the Dutch skybox, a small terrace in a cube that emerges from the central hub’s facade. In this open-air space lies a dining area regularly used by the ambassador for important business meals.

Structure

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin by Rem Koolhaas: In Between nature and architecture - Sheet1
Dutch Embassy in Berlin_©Achim Raschka

The building facades’ particular structure is created with aluminium uprights and evenly structured walls, which serve as support structures inside, resulting in dramatic spaces in public areas within the building. Rem Koolhas used the maze of intersecting walls creatively to strengthen the building further. The structural frame is steel and reinforced concrete. Due to its complex structure, the building represents a unique architectural and structural challenge. 

The only structural element that runs through the embassy’s entire height is the core of the elevators. The beams in the circulation spaces’ walls and against whom these charges do not reach full size. With reinforced concrete walls and thick variables, an uneven floor says embassy spaces are distinct from each other, despite the vertical transparency impression.  The internal walls adjacent to the ramp are load-bearing beams that cross over each other enough to bring loads down, creating big open spaces on the lower floors. Load-bearing glass mullions support the floor slabs where the trajectory meets the façade. In order to differentiate from the surrounding stone-clad buildings, the building and the wall are faced with aluminum.

Rem Koolhaas and his OMA Studio designed the Dutch embassy in Berlin in 1997 after winning a competition to build it. After the destruction of the previous embassy during the Second World War and after the wall’s fall, building a new diplomatic headquarters in the city for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a significant step. 

The site’s choice is along the river Spree to emulate the typical landscape and canals of Holland, and it represents the care with which this work has been done. It is said that with this work, Koolhaas completed sealing the role of architectural chancellor of his country.

References

Author

Meenakshi is an architectural student studying in Manipal University. She is someone who is constantly hungry to learn something new. Her interests are: learning about different low cost building materials and recyclable building materials and wishes to guide young architecture students in the future.

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