In Berlin, five Nordic embassies are wrapped in a copper-clad compound by Berger+Parkkinen Architects.
Abby Bussel -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
In a model demonstration of international cooperation, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have built themselves a communal embassy compound in the center of Berlin. Part of the city's rebuilding program—spurred, of course, by the downing of the Wall and the transfer of the capital from its former seat in Bonn—the making of the Nordic embassies complex involved a two-stage competition, a central organizing group, and extraordinary collaborative efforts. If only the rest of the world could get along so well.
The designers behind the scheme are Alfred Berger and Tiina Parkkinen of Berger+Parkkinen Architects, the Austrian-Finnish partnership that won the first-stage competition for the Nordic embassies. The competition, which attracted 223 entries from architects in European Union countries as well as Norway and Iceland, was sponsored and administered by the Nordic Council, what Alfred Berger describes as "a mini EU," an international body that spearheads cultural, economic, and political cooperation among its members. The first-stage competition program called for the design of all five embassies plus a common building on a triangular site near the Tiergarten, the city's central park. Berger+Parkkinen proposed a master plan in which each embassy would be an individual building designed by an architect from its home country. With five embassies organized in a U-configuration around a central plaza, the plan would express the individuality of each country, while a copper band stretched around three sides of the site would hold the buildings together in a unified gesture to the street.
In addition to the master plan and the design of a common building shared by all five embassies, Berger+Parkkinen established guidelines for the second phase of the competition, in which each participating country held a competition for its own embassy. The rules were simple: each embassy could determine its own envelope and interiors, but had to be built within a predetermined footprint. The results of those competitions: the embassy of Denmark was designed by Nielsen, Nielsen, & Nielsen A/s of Arhus, Norway; the embassy of Finland by VIIVA Arkkitehtuuri Oy of Helsinki; the embassy of Iceland by Palmar Kristmundsson of Reykjavik; the embassy of Norway by Snohetta A/s of Oslo; and the embassy of Sweden by Wingardh Arkitektkontor AB of Goteborg. (Pysall-Ruge Architekten served as local architect for the Nordic embassies project.) While each architect designed a distinct building, they share, in their use of natural materials and light-filled spaces, a predilection for spare, modern expressions of Nordic architecture.
The horizontal bands of copper that enclose three sides of the Nordic embassies compound unite the six-building complex in "a continuous and autonomous element," say Berger+Parkkinen. Mounted on a stainless-steel frame, the bands recall the copper roofing found in Nordic seaside towns. The bands are installed at various angles to control natural light and views between the street, the buildings, and the plaza, which is paved with stone imported from Norway and Sweden. The copper band, totaling 226 meters in length, serves as a wall, a fence, a second skin—an identifying mark on the new international landscape of the city.
The only structure not completely defined streetside by the copper wrapper is the larch-wood-clad Felleshus, or "house for all." Sited directly on Rauchstrasse, the main thoroughfare in this growing embassy district, the Felleshus is a communal building. With its auditorium, conference room, dining room, and exhibition spaces, the common house is a place for cultural exchange. It also marks the entrance to the Nordic complex and houses the consular sections of all five embassies. Its slatted-wood façades allow fragmented views in and out of the building, while modulating natural light. Ash wood Õe; lines the ceilings and floors in public areas. The ground floor is a security and distribution center, with public events held one flight up and conference and dining rooms on the top floor.
In a purposeful nod toward Adolf Loos, Berger+Parkkinen chose existing furnishings for the Felleshus, because, as Berger points out, "it is not necessary to design a new chair if you can buy a good one." Their selections include pieces designed between the 1950s and the 1990s from all five Nordic countries. The architects designed a few items that couldn't be bought, including a mountain ash conference room table that seats 26, waiting area benches, a reception desk, and the five consulate counters, which are stainless steel with bullet-proof glazing—international cooperation is one thing, but these are embassies after all.