Italian wins Berlin palace design contract

1st December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Three facades of the cube-shaped building are to replicate the palace, which was demolished by communist authorities in 1950.

Berlin -- An Italian architect, Francesco Stella, won Friday a design competition to build a replica of the kaisers' old palace in the heart of Berlin at a cost of more than half a billion euros.

From his office in Vicenza, Stella declared himself "very, very satisfied" to have gained the nod from the panel of judges for the next big project in restoring Berlin as a great capital.

Three facades of the cube-shaped building are to replicate the palace, which was demolished by communist authorities in 1950.

Behind that baroque facade, the interior will be modern and will be used as an arts centre, as well as a public library and university teaching space. The building will not be called the royal palace, but the Humboldt Forum.

The project, approved in principle by the German parliament, will cost 552 million euros (690 million dollars), with completion set for 2013. The original palace, begun in 1700, was the town home of the kings of Prussia who later became the kaisers of Germany.

The design by Stella and his assistants was selected unanimously by the judges from a short list of 30 entries.

The site for the old-new palace has just been cleared with the demolition of the ugly East German parliament building.

Like the Berlin's other major landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and the Island of Museums, the exterior is expected to give more pre-war flavor to a city where modern architecture predominates.

"I didn't want to create a counterpoint to the city architecture, but provide continuity, not replacement," he said.

Stella, who formerly taught architecture at the University of Venice and was an associate of Aldo Rossi, father of "rational architecture," described himself as a "classic modern rationalist" in design. He is based in Vicenza near Venice.

He said his "architectural name," like a nom de plume, is "Franco Stella," rather than his everyday name "Francesco Stella."

"One has to rediscover history," said Stella, explaining that his aim was to extend the city's past building.

The palace project has been highly controversial in Berlin and needed explicit consent from Germany's parliament.

Former communists were upset at losing a symbol of East Germany. Others have worried that putting back the palace might be tantamount to honoring Prussian militarism.

The kaisers, who spent most of their time at Potsdam, stayed at the palace when they had to be in town. Germany became a republic in 1918 and the last kaiser abdicated. The palace was gutted by fire during the Second World War, partly fixed and then blown up on communist orders.

The huge expense of the project amid a recession has also led to criticism, while some people said the modern building's reproduction facade, with stone carvers copying old photographs, would be a dishonest fake.

Bernd Neumann, the top culture aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel, praised the Stella design.

"It solves the complex requirements set out by parliament in a convincing way," he said.

The tenants are to be the Prussia Foundation, which owns the royal art collections, the Berlin state library and Humboldt University.


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