ZGW 03 - 29 - 2010

Building renovation and reuse is a simple principle of sustainability. Besides saving the materials that would be lost in demolition and new construction, retrofitting an existing structure to an updated or entirely new use maintains the history of the building, city, and even country. This idea of social sustainability has been common throughout the last Europe leg of the trip. Two examples of building reuse are the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany and the main station in Prague, Czech Republic. The renovation done to the German Reichstag by Norman Foster in the late 90's was much less a restoration than it was a complete overhaul. The building at that time was essentially a hallow shell with a rough facade. The Reichstag is the German Parliament building with each face representing one of the four large German dukedoms. Its heavy stone construction and symbolism to the German nation meant that it was one of the best places for the last strong German holdout against the Soviet troops in World War II. Though patched, the facade is littered with bullet holes and the slight variations in stone color hint at the level of destruction certain areas faced. Sitting idle through the Soviet years up until the Foster renovation, the Reichstag project had complicated social and architectural issues to face. The approach was simple; respect the past and push to the future. The shell of the building was restored to its fullest in order to capture the history while the interior was completely altered to create a place to house a parliament of the 21st century. Apart from the basic symbolisms in the design, the materiality and forms in no way try to mimic the buildings past. However, the new interior does show considerable honor for the old building. A photographic and narrative display along the visitor's walk give the complete history of the building from initial construction to current day. The Reichstag is a good example of reusing a building for social and environmental sustainability reasons. The addition to the Prague railway station was done differently than the Reichstag. Instead of renovating the original structure, the architect buried the new program underground. This has multiple negative effects on the station. First, the original building is left empty. There is no function, program, or use for it. The main pickup/dropoff area is directly outside the original entrance doors, but once entered the building is little more than volume. Dirty and unkempt, the exterior and interior of the building do not announce the station as a main transit point for the city, whether or not it is. Second, wayfinding through the original station and new addition is erratic and complex. Main functions like the ticketing area are buried below the secondary commercial spaces. Multiple levels and half levels separate the building in a random format and require extra elevators, escalators, stairs, and inclined travellators. Third, what the architect might have considered as the new main entrance is buried below a street and accessible only by pedestrians. This is a positive point for those that are familiar with the station but for first time users and travelers the random placement is unannounced and underused. The station addition may have been considerate of the historic structure but it did not engage it in the new design in a manner that allows it to continue being used. Instead it sits idle and isolated from the rearranged program as nothing more than a rundown monument to the cities past.

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