alan balfour
Haupstadt Berlin Stadtmitte ::
Alan Balfour

Haupstadt Berlin Stadtmitte


The Spreeinsel Competition


Alan Balfour

Visiting Critic in Architecture


Berlin has been the focus of the world’s architectural activity for the past five years.  With the collapse of the wall, the idea of a united Berlin captured all imaginations-it could be reformed to become the most progressive city in the new millennium.  The shape of this new city is beginning to emerge, created out of a series of competitions that have tapped the desires of architects around the world.  No city in the twentieth century has provided such a revealing section through the aspirations of these times.


The last and most significant of these competitions was based on the redevelopment of the historic heart of Berlin, Spreeinsel, the island on the Spree that was the site of the most dominant structure in the pre-war city-the King’s Place, or Stadtschloss, the last Berlin home of the Kaiser. Its vast paternalistic presence was surrounded on the north by the cathedral and heroic assembly of national museums, held in place by Schinkel’s majestic Altes Museum and to the south by offices of government.  The Stadtschloss was demolished by the government of the German Democratic Republic for political reasons-removing from the city the most powerful symbol of Prussian autocracy.  On its site was constructed the symbolic center of the socialist regime, the Palace of the Republic.  The competition presented three problems.  At its simplest it was a task of civic design and civic architecture, reestablishing a sense of place in the ancient heart of the city.  In metaphysical terms it presented a struggle between conflicting desires whether to create a transformative progressive reality of reestablish historic order to the heart of the city, and it revealed a deep political conflict between those who wished to preserve the structures of socialism and those who wished to destroy them, and in so doing, weaken the social aspirations still so strongly present in East Berlin.  The last two issues remain unresolved.  Even before the competition was held, the first public construction in East Berlin after the wall was removed was to recreate in canvas the vast façade of the King’s Palace.

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