Since the early nineties, and especially since the decision was made to demolish the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), the heart of Berlin’s Mitte has been a constant focus for debate and projects. The reconstruction of the Berlin residence of the Prussian kings was an idea that found favor with many officials. In opposition to this, many architects attempted to bring what they thought were better solutions into play, that is, solutions that were both based in the here and now and did justice to the genius loci.

The design consists of five individual buildings that form a discernable ensemble as seen in the building lines and bridges from one building to the next. While the different cultural functions of the Humboldtforum— museum, library, conference site, and so on—are distributed among the buildings in a clear manner, the spatial connections to the immediate surroundings are reinforced by means of two alleyways that lead crosswise and lengthwise through the complex. The small square at the intersection of the two paths enables the Altes Museum in the northwest and Breite Strasse in the southeast, the Spree canal in the southwest and the Spree River in the northeast to always remain in view.

Because of its west-facing front and eastfacing back, the Baroque residence of the Hohenzollern determined the further spatial development of Berlin in such a way that the city’s eastern neighborhoods lagged behind the western ones. The design provides a clear response to this shortcoming—a shortcoming that urbanists like Martin Wagner and Adolf Behne had criticized as early as the Weimar Republic years.

While numerous other proposals for the development of the site respect, indeed reproduce, the mass and contours of the old palace, this design retracts the structure, enlarges the Lustgarten in front of the Altes Museum, and masses the Humboldtforum complex at the vanishing point of the Unter den Linden boulevard
and the Schlossbrücke (Palace Bridge). Here the new building rises to a height of nine seven-meter-tall stories. From a distance it is as if the overall form of these stories were emerging from a stacking and thrusting of thick panes of glass. An architectural structure at once romantic and crystalline shimmers before the eyes.

What the design changes—the play of empty and full, of space and structure, of texture and object—has aesthetic consequences for Berlin’s center. The Unter den Linden axis now leads to a point de vue, although the site not only seeks to conclude the space but to open it as well. And this is where the exploration of the city’s eastern neighborhoods—toward which the palace had only turned its back—begins.

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