Volkspalast in Berlin

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An historical building transformation: rethinking its use rather than its façade.

The history of the Palast der Republik [Palace of the Republic] is a complex one. It has been an icon representing several moments in German history: from being the castle of Prussian kings and emperors to being demolished by the Allied bombing in 1945. In the beginning of its history, this building was designed to be a key space for the public and cultural life of German society.  This palace “had its own small theatre, an art gallery, a restaurant with privileged supplies, a café-ice cream parlour, a disco, a billiard room and a post office that was open every day.”

However, after the reunification of Germany in 1990, this Palace was closed since asbestos fibres –a dangerous substance – were found there. From then on, the public importance of this building started to decline. Many controversies happened during these years: while, on the one hand, there were conservationist movements that argued arguing that “the existing structure was a valuable opportunity to think about what a major 21st century cultural facility should be liked”; on the other, “some thought that the bronzed, reflecting curtain wall of the Palast der Republik was simply ugly and recalled the oppressive architecture of the fallen regime”.

Eventually, the defenders of its conservation convinced the authorities and there started a project to reuse the building. At this moment, the designers thought that changing the use of the building was far more interesting than just changing its appearance and this is how the Volkspalast started to be a flexible space for the culture of Berlin. As its website says: “The Volkspalast had to operate as an experimental prototype of a multipurpose cultural centre which would generate new programmatic and typological ideas for the future.”

(via publicspace.org)

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