For fans of architecture, there is hardly a more exciting city right now than Berlin - and not just because of its Schinkel buildings or its Bauhaus past. The atmosphere of change, the ‘unfinishedness' that still characterizes many parts of the city to this day, has drawn many international star architects to Berlin. Indeed, it was here that some of them made their breakthrough. Take Daniel Libeskind, for instance; his prizewinning new building to house the Jewish Museum opened in 1999, catapulting him to stardom.
The basic form of the building is reminiscent of a zigzag, with three underground axes within symbolizing the various aspects of German/Jewish relations. One of these leads out into the hugely disconcerting "Garden of Exile", the design and structure of which gives visitors a tangible sense of the lack of orientation that exile represents.
Located opposite the museum, the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin was created by Libeskind 15 years later, at the flower market building named after its patron, Eric F. Ross. The Academy houses an auditorium, a library, the archive and office space. In visual terms, Libeskind references the architecture of the Jewish Museum in this new building, the cube forms embodying a variation on the architectural themes found in the main Museum building.
Meanwhile, Daniel Libeskind's current work from his New York office aptly demonstrates that his architectural skill extends beyond the design of museum buildings. His latest project is residential - a new building in Chausseestraße, not far from the headquarters of the Federal Intelligence Service. The first residents are set to move in in 2015.
For the star architect with Polish roots, residential construction represents "the fine art of architecture", entailing, as it does, the creation of the framework within which people from the most diverse walks of life can make their home. The building, which covers an area of 6,000 square meters and houses 73 two-, three- or four-room apartments is designed to reflect the new Berlin and has been conceived for a young, urban target group.
Libeskind's British colleague David Chipperfield has already designed several residential properties for style-conscious Berliners. One of these buildings, in Joachimstraße in the ‘Mitte' district, is home to his Berlin office; this is Chipperfield's fourth office after those in London, Milan and Shanghai.
In 1997 he was commissioned by the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz to draw up a master plan for the redevelopment of Berlin's ‘Museum Island' and the reconstruction of the Neue Museum. The museum, designed by one of Schinkel's students and home to the famous Nefertiti bust, was carefully reconstructed by Chipperfield and complemented with contemporary elements. The central double-armed staircase demonstrates an impressive interplay between old and new architecture. Here, Chipperfield bravely combines modern concrete elements with unplastered brick walls and historical plaster casts.
Work on the building took a decade to complete; the museum reopened to the public in 2009. In addition to the many architectural prizes that the project garnered, it also won Chipperfield another honor: the chance to redesign Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie. Construction work on this project is set to begin in 2015.
The star architect is hugely enthusiastic about the opportunities Berlin has to offer, not just for established architects, but also for those just starting out. "There are still many buildings here that can be transformed into something very special at comparatively little cost", he said in an interview with the US edition of "Architectural Digest". Indeed, Chipperfield is so fond of Berlin that he now wishes to move here and is currently building a house for himself and his family.
One of David Chipperfield's influential teachers also put a prominent stamp on Berlin: Sir Norman Foster designed the famous rebuild of the dome of the Reichstag, which draws around 8,000 visitors every single day. His modern design of glass and steel won the European-wide tender for bids in 1995. The dome can be accessed from the roof terrace and provides a view both inside the plenary chamber of the Bundestag, and across the city.
This domed shape appears again in Foster's project "The Berlin Brain". The shape of the reconstruction of the Philological Library of the Freie Universität Berlin in Dahlem, which opened in 2005, is designed to resemble the shape of the human brain. A dome-like steel and glass construction spans a library housing 700,000 books and more than 600 workstations.
But Berlin has not brought out the best in all of its star architects. Pritzker prizewinner Zaha Hadid, originally from Iraq, is widely known for the exciting organic forms of her constructions and furniture. However, at the International Construction Exhibition in 1987 she immortalized herself with a somewhat unspectacular piece of work in Stresemannstaße in Kreuzberg - an acute-angled residential and office building with bronze cladding. At that time, Zaha Hadid was just at the beginning of her career.
Looking to the future, Berlin is sure to continue to be an inspiring city for architects. Hamburg architect Hadi Teherani, for instance, is currently developing an architectural concept for an area that has never before been built on. His master plan for the Humboldthafen won the architectural competition held by the Berlin Senate to create a new district with residential property, offices and retail space over an area spanning a floor area of 35,000 square meters. Thus, Berlin looks set to remain an exciting destination for fans of architecture.
The staircase of the "Neuen Museum" by David Chipperfield gestaltet (Foto: Ute Zscharnt)