Autorizzazione Tribunale di Roma n. 378 del 30/09/2005
Rivista bimestrale - Anno V - n.21 - Settembre-ottobre 2009

Reichstag Dome: a symbol of the new Berlin

The year 1992 is a year of changes for the city of Berlin: Norman Foster won the contest for the new dome of the Parliament House. We are talking about a “symbol” because that’s the only way we can describe this work: a symbol which reminds the politic role of the parliamentaries. Let’s see how this could be possible. We can think about the dome as a lantern, yet with a peculiarity, which is hidden in its core: its inner part is composed by a double helical stair set that leads the visitor to a platform which is placed over the plenary venue. That’s why when we talk about the dome we talk about a symbol too: the platform allows the parliamentaries to see the citizens over them, in order to be constantly warned about the importance of their position. So we can say that the people have a fundamental role over the Parliament House of Berlin. Now let’s talk about the architecture. on a structural level the ramp is the stiffening ring of the Dome which is 23,5 meters tall, with a 40 meters diameter and is covered with two glass layers divided each other by a vinyl layer and a tin layer. The whole thing is supported by its magnificent external steely structure. Note that of the total weight of the dome is 1200 tons and that the structure itself weighs 700 tons. After the symbol and the structure it’s time for us to analyze the concept of “transparency”. The “Light Sculptor” is the device ( which
simply consists of an inverted conic ) that makes us look at the dome and think about light, permeability and levity. In fact, Norman Foster could be considered the first architect to make the high-tech (*) logic the basic model for architectural design. He thinks his projects as an ensemble of extremely high-tech structural and mechanic elements (see the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow, for example) so it’s spontaneous for us to imagine the Light Sculptor coming out of the parliamentary hall’s ceiling and, covered with mirrors and Sun-Following (whose functioning depends on solar cells), stretching up towards the top of the dome in order to ensure light, heat and aeration to the hall below. The technology of this semi-spherical dome allows the reflection of the daylight inside the plenary hall and at the same time the irradiation of the artificial light coming from the inside during the night hours is inspired by the “visionary” architect Etienne-Louis Boulleé’s Isaac Newton memorial building. All of these things make the Reichstag a symbol.

Reichstag Dom

Perhaps someone could think that this fascinating and futuristic building requires a great energy expense in order to make the whole technologic apparatus work correctly. Wrong. Knowing that Germany cares a lot about the economy and its environmental implications, so the consequence is that what we see is a zero-impact building. Again the Light Sculptor is the core of the whole ventilation and heat recovery system: it extracts warm air with the help of the natural ventilation on order to allow the introduction of cold air through a series of fillers placed in the floor. Furthermore, the exceeding heat gets recovered and then deviated inside a subterranean aquifer layer in order to be used in winter to warm the halls up. Where can you find a better example of Sustainable Architecture?(**)

(*) High - Tech means high technology. With this word we refer to the currently most advanced devices. In the building field we talk about a “high-tech architecture” when this one itself is realized with technologically advanced elements.

(**) Sustainable Architecture is a design logic whose aim is to realize a piece of architecture while respecting the surrounding environment by limiting the resource expense.

traslation: Daniele Mastropietro

Born in Manchester in 1935, Norman Robert Foster left school early and was later occupied with a some municipal jobs. During the conscription period he finally understood what his true passion was: architecture. Back in Manchester he graduated at the Architecture and Urban Planning; then he went to Yale were he graduated in 1961. Back in England he founds the Team4, from which he parted ways some years later. In the following years his fame raised: he received the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1983, the Stirling Prize in 1998 and 2004, the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999 and he was awarder Lord by Her Majesty the British Queen.