Restoring 14th century Berlin Palace by Franco Ste...

Restoring 14th century Berlin Palace by Franco Stella

Project : Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany

Architect : Franco Stella, Italy

The former Berlin Palace(Berliner Schloss), constructed since 1443 as the residence of the Brandenburg princes, was partially transformed at the beginning of the 18th century into the baroque palace of those same sovereigns, who in 1701 became kings of Prussia and in 1871 also German emperors. Damaged by the Second World War II bombing, the Berlin Palace was lastly razed to the ground for ideological reasons- as a symbol of Prussian militarism -in 1950 by the holders of political power of the GDR.

He was the urban and architectural director of the historic-monumental Centre of Berlin, built during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which still exists, although largely rebuilt after the devastation of the Second World War.

The monumental axis Unter den Linden – the almost uninterrupted sequence of public and private buildings that reaches the Brandenburg Gate– had begun and then had found the point of arrival in the Palace; its ‘garden of delights’ (Lustgarten) was transformed during the nineteenth century into the Museum Island, with the construction of five great art museums; the portion of the Lustgarten in front of the Palace became the ‘Square of the Four Powers’ of the Prussian state, with the construction of the symbolic buildings of Religion (the Cathedral), of the Military (the Arsenal), and of Culture (the Museum , now the Altes Museum, designed by Schinkel), whose Greek temple colonnade is explained by its being opposite the Palace.

The former director of the City Centre returns as a teacher of urban history
To rediscover the role of the Palace in the construction of the Berlin Centre, the reconstruction of its facades is of fundamental importance, because the facade, by virtue of its urban exposure and the permanence of its shape over time, is the element that more than any other communicates the age of the original construction of the Palace, and therefore its relations with the other buildings of its urban context.

The Berlin Palace as a harmonious combination of Old and New
The new Berlin Palace (Berliner Schloss – Humboldt Forum) is a unitary, baroque and modern building, conceived as a “meeting place with the cultures of the world”, dedicated to the Humboldt brothers. It appears as a harmonious combination between the reconstructed baroque part of the lost Palace (a “masterpiece of the European Baroque” in Schinkel’s words) and a modern added part.

The ‘faithful to the original’ reconstruction of the stereometry and facades of the Baroque Palace – that is, the part of the Palace, redesigned at the end of the 17th / early 18th century by Schlüter and Eosander – and of  the Stüler’s 19th-century dome, was decided by the German Parliament in 2002 , and confirmed by the 2008 Competition program. The new construction consists of five new buildings: one outside, in the area of ​​the Renaissance Palace, the other four in the area of ​​the main internal courtyard, the Eosanderhof. The Palace, the City Gate, the Piazza and the Theater are the excellent places of architecture and the city, which inspire the combination of Old and New: both outside, in the urban image of the building, both inside, in the architecture of its three courtyards.

The Palace as a building with five portals as City gates and three courtyards as Piazza
The new building facing the Spree, is intended as the ‘fourth wing’ of the reconstructed Baroque building, completing Schlüter’s original idea of ​​transforming the Palace into a unitary edifice, following the example of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque ones. The size and the figurative principles of the façade are similar to those of the three reconstructed wings: by virtue of the extraordinary size of its window openings, in particular their depth of over a meter, the front on the Spree looks like a ‘facade of loggias’ , which suggests the public character of the building.

The four internal pieces of the new construction complete the Schlüterhof as a theater-square and realizes two new courtyard-squares in relation to the portals rebuilt as a City gate: the Schloss-Passage, whose new ‘colonnaded way’ remember an ancient Roman forum, and the Große Foyer that evokes the Theater, with the reconstructed triumphal arch’-portal as the ‘ scene front’ and the new galleries as the lodges for spectators. The new Berlin Palace can be described as a ‘city in the form of a palace’, designed both for millions of visitors from around the world and for the daily life of thousands of citizens. Through its always open portals, the external squares mixes with the internal courtyards in a grandiose public space in the heart of Berlin.

The facade of Walls and Columns
The modern one as well as the baroque facade often presents the combination of walls and columns. Both wallsbaroque and modern, are a three-layer construction: a reinforced concrete building-supporting wall, a thermal insulation, and the facade-wall. The baroque one is a brick wall with an average thickness of 65 cm: a self-supporting construction (and not a hanging ‘mask’), which guarantees a facade with no apparent joints; the modern one is made of prefabricated slabs of reinforced with cement mixed with clear sandstone. The baroque columns and its architraves are reconstructed by adding pieces of natural stone with the same size, shape and material of the original one; the modern ones are prefabricated monoliths, made, as well as the slabs, of reinforced white cement and clear sandstone.

The carved stones
Some stone artifacts have been restored, keeping their current fragmented condition; others, the most of them, have been reconstructed in their original completeness of form and matter. The restored stones are variously mutilated figures, irreparably blackened by the patina of time: some have returned to the open where they were; others, too vulnerable to return outdoors, find their place inside, in special exhibition spaces. Almost all the carved stones that were on the outside have been rebuilt: some, such as statues or high-reliefs, are unique pieces, made by the hand of the sculptor; almost all the others, such as friezes, frames, capitals or balustrades –altogethermore than three thousand pieces– have been mechanically replicated starting from three hundred models, first of clay and then of plaster, made in the so-called Palace Factory (Schlossbauhütte) by numerous sculptors and stonemasons.   

The internal spaces
Almost all internal spaces have all been redesigned and modernly equipped according to their new purpose; the arrangement of pillars and beams is careful not to undermine the possibility of reconstructing places of particular historical-artistic value in the future. The total useful surface, distributed over four floors, is 42.000 m2: about a half is intended for the collections of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art, and about 10.000 m2 for spaces of general public interest.

On the ground floor are the Entrance and Stairs Hall, the Humboldt-Foyer, rooms for shows, meetings and temporary exhibitions, the Sculpture Hall, bookshop, restaurants and cafes; on the first floor are the exhibition spaces of a special Berlin Museum and the Humboldt University; on the second and third floors, are the collections of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art, research and restoration laboratories. The underground floor – with the exception of an area of ​​about 1500 m2, where the cellars of the old Palace can be visited– and the entire floor under the roof, are intended for technical equipment. Above the roof, in continuity with the underlying ‘cube-north’, the are a pavilion of a café-restaurant, surrounded by a terrace with a beautiful view to the city.

Project Gallery


Area: 100000 m²

Year: 2020

Photographs: Stefan Müller

Manufacturers: Franken-Schotter