Following a competition won in 1992, the dormant wasteland of Potsdamer Platz in the newly reunified capital of Germany, Berlin, was entirely renovated based on a Renzo Piano Building Workshop-designed masterplan. It was not long before the new architecture and fresh vitality triggered by this mixed-use development gave the entire area a new inner energy, reconnecting areas of the city long separated by the Berlin wall. This new center is defined by two environmental features typical of the Berlin urban scene: green space and water.
Reconstructing Potsdamer Platz meant creating a project that would give some sort of shape to this place so steeped in memory but devoid of any physical traces offering proof of it. Having been abandoned for so long, attitudes to this part of the city had become deeply contradictory – in terms of urban policy, but also in terms of a divided sentiment that pit nostalgia against the need for a process of collective erasure.
The devastation of the war, which reached its apex in the Spring of 1945 with bombing raids on an apocalyptic scale, was seen not as an opportunity for urban renewal but as an episode to forget. This stoppage of time became even more accentuated when the Wall was built in 1961. A vast and abandoned empty expanse in what was once, at the start of the century, one of Europe’s most lively urban centers, now boasted nothing more than traces of old roads and the isolated presence of the Weinhaus Huth.
Staying within the guidelines imposed by urban planning regulations at the time, the RPBW masterplan complied with the Berlin tradition of city blocks and proposed a design that was, urbanistically speaking, clear, compact and transparent on the ground floor with buildings for a wide range of different types of tenants: offices, apartments, cinemas, casino, theatres, restaurants and retail. The main hub of the complex was the new Marlene Dietrich Platz. The project called for the creation of 350,000 sqm of space on a site of 68,000 sqm. Streets, sidewalks and paths, trees and water helped to define these new places and new connections.
Once the masterplan had been drawn up, RPBW designed eight of the buildings and called in the other architects who had submitted designs for the competition for the remaining ten.
Two towering office buildings stand as sentinels at the entrance to the new neighborhood and an innovative gallery gives a modern twist to the retail promenade. The entertainment complex on the southwest side, housing the theatre and casino, was designed to be in synch with the Hans Scharoun-designed Neue Staatsbibliothek (1967-1978) and, in a more general sense, with the Kulturforum, an area which had once challenged the menacing boundary that the Wall presented.
Potsdamer Platz was also an opportunity for us to experiment with construction methods. An ambitious piece of maritime engineering enabled the foundations for the entire project to be built underwater, and terracotta was used extensively for various architectural solutions on the facades.