In the aftermath of reunification, the government of Germany decided to relocate its capital city to Berlin. After selling their prior embassy property after the war, the Netherlands was free to make a new decision. Roland Ufer in Mitte, the oldest settlement in Berlin, next to the center of the government of their main trade partner, ultimately won out.
The client wanted a solitary building that integrated both the requirements of conventional civil service security and that of Dutch openness. The traditional city planning guidelines required the new building to complete the block in 19th-century fashion, yet city officials were open to the idea of a freestanding cube on a podium. As such, the design explores a combination of obedience (fulfilling the block’s perimeter) and disobedience (building a solitary cube).
Project: Netherlands Embassy Berlin
Year: Completion 2003
Location: Berlin, Germany
Site: Facing Street corner, Spree riverbank
Principal Architect: Rem Koolhaas
Land area: 8500m2
Floor Area: 1500m2
Built-up Area: 4800m2
Material: Metal, Glass, Metal mesh
Land area: 8,500m2
The embassy divides the single, contiguous structure implied by Berlin’s regulations into two parts: a cube housing office, and a wall surrounding the cube on two sides, housing embassy residences and creating a protected internal courtyard. The cube, composed of glass and its wings, with metallic latticework, rises over a platform that serves as a parking place and is connected to pedestrian bridges at different heights. The space between both, occupied by the vehicle access at ground level, marks the beginning of the tour of the entire building. The sense of security and stability coexists inside the embassy with the free circulation provided by a 200m path that zig-zags up through the eight stories, determining the arrangement of the building’s spaces, offering views of the city, and occasionally escaping the constraints of the container: in the conference hall, with a five-meter cantilever, and in the glazed corridor overlooking Klosterstrasse.
It was a challenge for Rem Koolhaas and OMA to design this building as it was conditioned to be the modest size of the site and the extensive program required by the client. To remedy this, the design was based on the creation of spaces for overlapping functions, the potential for multiple uses of specific areas, and the installation of technology. The embassy building was to be self-sufficient and closed to its environment to enhance the safety of the building.
In this space, a continuous spiral movement encompasses eight floors of the embassy and shapes the internal communication of the building referring to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. At night, the building can be read out as a ray of the light, illuminated interior with its route. In the day, a glass facade that resembles aluminum ribs accentuates the edge of the bow when facing the water channel.
This building is not a facade, but both sides contain an entry: the street Roland Ufer for motorized vehicles and pedestrians from Kloterstrasse. After the pedestrian entrance at street level, a sliding door separates the vast space of the Foyer and the central courtyard.
A multipurpose hall known as Prins Claus Ziall is a space that can be separated into several parts to accommodate different events. There’s a courtyard exactly in between the gap of the bucket and the L-shaped structure that makes the Mediatrix building and acts as a protective screen for the façade of the street Straulerstrasse. A Dutch skybox, a small terrace that emerges from the facade of the central hub, is another element. This is a small terrace in the form of a cube that simply emerges from the facade of the main hub. In this open-air space, lies dining used regularly by the ambassador for important business meals.
The most component of this building is the internal ramp travel hub, which is completely separate from the structure facade. All sections are arranged along the ramp to expand the public space inside the cube. The spiral movement named Das Trajekt penetrates the box and passes through the eight floors, defining the internal communication. The path provides fresh air for the offices as it serves as the main conduit for ventilation. The journey takes you to all parts of the embassy and allows you to take in the city’s scenery. From the entrance, through the library, meeting rooms, gym, auditorium, and restaurant to the terrace. In one of the loops at the end of his movement within a window framing the tower Fernsehsturm.
Structure and Materials
In order to support and transfer the reinforcing fillers, structural engineers designed transition elements, leading to an extremely complex structural system resembling stacked cards. The facades of the building are supported by aluminum uprights evenly structured and walls, which provide a strong structural framework within the building. This allows for dramatic spaces within the public areas. This maze of intersecting walls has been used creatively to reinforce the structure. Steel and reinforced concrete make up the structural frame.
Given the complexity, the building represents a unique architectural and structural challenge. The only structural element in the embassy that reaches the top is the elevator core since the tangential beams in the walls of the circulation spaces are not high enough to reach the top. Within the building, circulation is provided by a 200m zigzag path that traversed eight floors, determining the arrangement of spaces. An uneven floor, together with reinforced concrete walls and thick variables, says embassy spaces are distinct from each other, despite the vertical transparency impression.
- OMA OFFICE WORK SEARCH. Netherlands Embassy. [online]. Available at: https://www.oma.com/projects/netherlands-embassy / [Accessed date: 01/03/2022].
- OMA as Architects. Netherlands Embassy in Berlin. [online]. Available at: https://archello.com/project/netherlands-embassy-in-berlin [Accessed date: 03/03/2022].
- EUmiesaward. Netherlands Embassy Berlin. [online]. Available at: https://www.miesarch.com/work/1909 [Accessed date: 03/03/2022].