Authority and Balance – Bundeskanzleramt

by Benjamin Glancy

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Before anything else, is the overwhelming feeling of sheer immensity. The Bundeskanzleramt, which sits sandwiched between the Spree and Reichstag, ranks as one of the largest government headquarters in the world. With a staggering 12,000 square meters it is roughly ten times the size of the White House. But what I find even more incredible than its size, is the stylistic freedom that Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank were granted in the creation of the building. It stands as a colossal monument not only to the accomplishments of the German people but to Post-modernism and the refusal of traditionalist symbols of authority.

As with everything in Berlin, there is a rich historical and ideological context from which the Bundeskanzleramt has emerged. With the fall of the Wall and the reunification of the city, the choice to have the seat of German government return to Berlin was nothing short of controversial. However I would argue that despite the critical failures of other city planning endeavors following the Mauerfall such as Potsdamer Platz, the Bundeskanzleramt can be viewed as a success. This largely has to do with the symbolic value of the building and the way this fits into the German national Psyche.

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It is only natural that power complexes and treatment of authority come with a high degree of cynicism and critique in a country with a past as turbulent as Germany. This revealed itself in the debates over and eventual selection of the design for the Bundeskanzleramt. The argument was polarized between those who believed there was a need to return to traditional forms of architecture which had been lost in the regimes of the Nazis and Soviets, and those who believed in the adoption of wholly modern styles [1]. Ultimately the Bundeskanzleramt was to be designed by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank who created a building in a Postmodernist style.

Symbolically I find this incredibly important as a resolution to the debate over Berlin’s reconstruction as the capital of Germany. While the Reichstag maintained elements of nostalgia as a way of pulling together a sense of national identity, the Bundeskanzleramt instead developed this through experimentation. As much as it is a German tradition to return to a sense of imperial grandeur which was characteristic of a time pre-1918, I would argue it is equally traditional if not more so to push the boundaries of creativity. Adaptation and change have been the only constants in Berlin’s long history and they sit on a precedent of valuing the future as much as the past. There is a distinct understanding of being present in history, both that which has already happened and that which is being made. Perhaps this is simply my inflated sense of German creativity or misinterpretation of the greater German public having only lived in Berlin, but I firmly believe in this idea of German historical awareness.

In my mind, this is where the success of the Bundeskanzleramt lies. It is the perfect compromise between authority, chaos, nostalgia and progressivism. There is a grandeur in its massive scale and design that commands a sense of respect without the need for some authoritative and bureaucratic style.The curvature of the glass and concrete creates a sense of the organic while also still being contained within the defined square structure of the building. It is German precision and artistry embodied and it does this without becoming prey to the failures of urban city-planning. There is an abundant amount of green space that allows and in fact invites the public to enjoy the building. The use of so much glass is of course symbolic of the hopeful transparency of the chancellery. Its all designed to be open and inviting while also being professional.

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[1] Ladd, Brian: The Ghosts of Berlin. Confronting German History in the urban landscape. Chicago 1997. p. 230.

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