Thursday, September 5, 2013

Embassies and Icons

Tuesday was our last day in Berlin, so we ended our trip with one of the greatest gems the city has to offer- the Philharmonie. But before we got back to Potsdamer Platz, we started our morning near our hotel at the "Blue Church".

We call it the "blue church" because it's really really blue.


We talked about the wall system and how thick it is. From the front of the church, the glass block and the concrete block line up. But on the inside, the glass block overhangs the concrete by about six feet. So what happens in between the two walls? We established that the large air space in between the two walls is used to diffuse light. Light will enter through the outside wall and bounce around in the cavity, finally passing through the inner wall not as harsh rays, but as a diffused glow that evenly illuminates each stained glass block.

Our next stop was the Nordic Embassies. We visited the Dutch Embassy on Monday, so we were in a good state of mind. Embassies are very interesting buildings to design. An embassy building is a presentation of your country to everyone in the world. So the architecture, the materials, the layout, and even the size of the building all need to communicate your ideals as a country. They need to create your identity. After all, some people's only exposure to your country could be through your embassy. So, you want to present the best self you possibly can to the world.


The Nordic Embassies have a very special circumstance in Berlin. All five Nordic Countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland) are represented on the same plot of land. Nowhere else in the world do multiple countries share land. Here in Berlin, though, especially after the wall came down, the Nordic Countries wanted to emphasize their unity as one area. To emphasize that they all share common goals, common morals, common ways of life. To maintain their own identities, each country has its own embassy building made of its own special materials unique to their country. But to unify them all, a copper wall wraps behind the five buildings, enveloping them in a green coppery hug.

We got to tour the complex and see the exterior of all the buildings, plus Iceland let us into their lobby. GO ICELAND.

Finland's material was wood. Inside their building too they have a special Finnish tree and some saunas. Sweden's facade is made of two types of stone that are found in the country. Norway has a giant slab of mountain leaning against their building. Iceland's is covered in a great pink/orange stone tile that is native to only Iceland, and Denmark is clad in stainless steel because they're cool like that.

There's also a main Nordic building where visitors enter. The green copper wall wraps around the entire complex.

While we were walking to lunch, Heiner stopped at the Baden-W├╝rttemberg Embassy. Baden-Wurttemberg is a state of Germany, with their own representative building in the city. We popped in to see if we could visit their atrium, but some gentleman (who I'm pretty sure just didn't want to go back to work) kindly gave us a fantastic tour of the entire facility. There were two beer rooms and lots of very high spaces with lots of light.

The man who found the bust of Nefertiti (which resides in the Neues Museum, which I saw) was from this state, so they have a replica of the bust on display in a fancy office room.

This may be my favorite photo of the day.

Our final stop for the day (and final stop in Berlin!) was at the Philharmonie, one of the world's best classic orchestral concert halls. The architect was Scharoun, who also designed the library I visited earlier this week. This concert hall was one of his greatest works. He was the first architect to create a listening space in the round like this. Before, all of the audience members sat in front of the orchestra. Now, 360 degrees of listening ability allows for more audience members, a more engaged audience, and more good seats in the house.


Scharoun designed the building to be very democratic. There are no "best seats" and there are no bad seats. Each seat was designed to have the same acoustical experience as its neighbor, so that each audience member, no matter how much they paid for their ticket, will experience the same show. Also, the entrance to the Philharmonie is a simple unadorned entrance, so as to invite all members of the public to performances, not just affluent visitors. It made the entire building more approachable. 

Killer stairs man.

The building was constructed in 1960-1963. It was originally designed to be built on the edge of East Berlin and West Berlin, so that it could be a concert hall for ALL of Berlin, not just one side. It was supposed to be in the center of the city. However, the wall went up in 1961 almost overnight, and what was once a bridge between East and West Berlin was suddenly located at the outskirts of West Berlin, and about 150 yards away from the wall itself. Mega bummer.

There are two halls- the main orchestral concert hall and a chamber music hall. The chamber music hall was finished by one of Sharoun's students in the 1980's after his death. 

The Philharmonie was a beautiful building and our guide was very informative. The building is a protected national monument, so no changes to the interior can be made anymore. I guess that just means that the faded mint green carpet on the floor is here to stay!

We woke up early on Wednesday morning to catch our tour bus to Dessau and Nuremberg, and we were pleasantly surprised with what rolled up outside our hotel. Legitimate two decker party bus. The top had leather seats, and the bottom had a kitchen, tables, and lots of space. Ryan, Hanna and I set up camp down there while everyone else headed upstairs. 

As Ryan would say, "Rage."

We stopped in Dessau in the morning to visit two buildings- the Federal Environmental Agency's new building and the Bauhaus. The two are very different, but similar in some poetic ways.

The Agency on the left, Bauhaus on the right.

The Federal Environmental Agency finished building this facility in 2005. It uses geothermal technologies to heat and cool air in the space, and users control operable windows to change the thermal comfort levels in the office. The building plan snakes around the lot, giving the square footage it needs to be a large office but hiding much of the building so you never see it all at once. This makes the building seem much smaller.


This building has some very smart energy efficient technologies in it, and rightfully so. It is a beacon to the rest of Germany, an example of how to live a more environmentally conscious life. It is very much a contemporary building, utilizing curves and symbolism out the wazoo.

Geothermal intake stacks, designed to look like sculptures.


The view from the atrium, and a shot of the aluminum louver system that pulls fresh air inside the offices. 

Inside the library addition.

The Bauhaus is a beacon, but for completely different reasons. The building is nearly 100 years old, and is a prime example of modern thought from the 1920's. This was a radical building, reflecting the radical school inside. Here, students from all disciplines (art, architecture, metalwork, sculpture, etc.) collaborated and worked together to create. Actually the VT architecture school's curriculum is modeled after the Bauhaus model.

But while the Agency was playful, the Bauhaus is stern and austere. It is a proud building that houses a world renowned program, and you can feel that pride inside the entire complex.

The main building has an impressive glass curtain wall. It's really incredible, this building will be 100 years old soon.

Both buildings embrace color in interesting ways, though. The Agency uses color as ornamentation, while the Bauhaus uses color to define the spatial entities in the building. Columns, light walls, dark walls, everything has been painted a particular color to convey something different. Very interesting.


The dormitory building. It only had space for 28 students, so it was in high demand between the 100 or so students enrolled in the school during its lifetime.

The Bauhaus was only an active school for 12 or so years. It was created after the Great War and stood as the beacon of modernity, but was too liberal for the Nazi regime in the 1930's. The Nazi's eventually forced the school out, and (ironically) used the building for its own educational purposes. The building fell into disrepair, but was remodeled and revitalized in the 1970's. It was recently declared a National Monument, and will now stand in its original splendor for many years to come.

Just some sketching.

We arrived in Nuremberg around 5:30 and had dinner at the hostel at 6:30. Tonight, the "state fair" is in town, so 18 of us hopped onto the tram and headed to the fairgrounds. After some beers and rides, we all game home satisfied and tired. It's been a long day with lots of touring, long bus rides, and unpacking. We're all in need of some good sleeps.

I talked to Heiner today about my research topic too. At the end of the trip (and during, I guess) each student gathers information and writes a paper on a topic of their choice. Mine is architecture and the ocean, how architecture can communicate with water. It's a little more long winded, but I have a few buildings in mind to study. Heiner helped me better hash out my idea, and hopefully I'll be able to stick with it and make it work!


  1. Cool stuff, as per usual! Now I'd love to go back to Germany, and visit Berlin :) So where are you next/now?! :)

  2. How do you know the snail was German? Maybe he was passing through...

  3. Ooh more amazing pictures! Looks like your time in Berlin was packed with awesomeness :) sounds like a great paper topic! I hope it works out for you!