Theory
JRM(1) 04 - 04 - 2010

Throughout its controversial 116-year history, the Reichstag in Berlin is unique in that it has addressed social, political, and environmental sustainability through the innumerable functions it has served. What began as a parliament building and a landmark has been a mark of war and violence, a hollow and unused shell, an international design competition, and an internationally renowned work of art. It has come full circle and serves as the parliament building once more, but it is able to address sustainability issues through its narrative. In addressing environmental sustainability, Norman Foster maintained the existing shell of the building while bringing the completely gutted building up to date on the interior. He used interior courtyards to provide daylighting and natural ventilation as well as a system of reflectors to direct light deep into the building. The glass cupola holds an enormous and innovative sunscreen which regulates the sun exposure within the space. Addressing political sustainability, the current Reichstag proves that the building is capable of adapting to a modern government. The combination of the historical building shell with the modern addition expresses a willingness to change and embrace forward thinking while maintaining core ideals. It serves as a symbol of transparency as people are able to look down through the cupola and into the parliament meeting room and the leaders within the room are given a sense of public exposure. In terms of social sustainability, the building continues to be a landmark for the city as well as an easily accessible government building. As people enter the building they can see the bullet marks on the facade from the Nazis' last stand against the Soviets and can see where stone has been restored. They can see that the standing original exterior walls mark the persistence and steadfastness of the German people (recovering from defeat in WWI, WWII, and the Western allies and Soviet occupations). After passing the threshold, the visitors are immediately struck by the stark contrast between the renovated portion and the original shell. The interior is clean, fresh and articulated as a representation of the current government. Passing through the building, images of American artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude's wrapping of the Reichstag are hanging on the wall. These images show that the building itself has functioned as controversial artwork and has captured the attention of the world. The building culminates with the rise to the top of the cupola. As the visitors spiral upward on the ramp, their eyes are constantly moving between their reflections in the core of mirrors, the city of Berlin on the exterior, and the parliament meeting room in the center. The open-air oculus atop the dome is directly above the reflective core, which appears to physically connect the parliament meeting room with the city and people beyond.

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