Openly Secure

Rem Koolhaas's daring plan for the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin places the mostly glass-clad structure on a prominent riverside site.
August 11, 2010

In contrast to many embassies in Berlin, which screen themselves off from the public, the glazed legation building of the Netherlands (from Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture) radiates a sense of openness—a symbol of the good relations between two neighboring countries, but also a recollection of the Calvinist tradition of uncurtained windows.

The Dutch selected a site on the River Spree, from which there is a view of barges and riverside promenades. On the side facing the city, the new development closes off the block with a perforated L-shaped building that contains accommodation for guests as well as part of the circulation system. This "serving" tract is linked with the actual embassy building via various bridges and ramps.

The glazed "urban villa" has a 17×17-meter footprint. Safety glass was used only for the ground-floor windows to the consular spaces. The offices on the upper floors are enclosed within a double-skin façade, through which extract air flows up the entire height of the building with the support of fans. The internal panes of laminated safety glass can be opened for cleaning. Narrow opaque elements for smoke-escape purposes are concealed in alternate bays between the glazed sections and can also be opened by members of the staff for natural ventilation.

In the case of the offices along the south face, expanded-metal sheeting was inserted between the outer panes of laminated safety glass to provide sun shading, anti-glare, and visual screening. This directionally selective daylight system also serves to disperse the light. At night, when the lighting is switched on, it is possible to see into the offices, the projecting conference room, and the hall for special events. The three-dimensional quality of the façade is a reflection of the spatial complexity internally.

The route up the building is not in the form of a vertical staircase. It is carved as a labyrinthine path through the volume of the embassy—at times as a ramp, at times as stairs—with changing views into and out of the building, before it reaches the roof terrace. It serves not only as a line of circulation, but also as a fresh-air duct for the entire complex. Where this so-called "trajectory" runs along the outer wall, the façade is cantilevered out in the form of a glazed ramp. The river and the foliage of the trees are reflected in the green glass floor of this structure, which conveys an unsettling sensation of exposure. A red pane of glass filters views down into the hall, while a colored window bathes the internal conference space in a deep blue light.

At the level of the transparent gym, the "trajectory" is recessed in the 40-cm double-skin façade. The double glazing shifts to the inner plane, and external glass fins perform the function of bracing.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication Detail, a German-based architectural review journal now available in an English version. For a subscription, visit:www.detail.de/English.