Pritzker prize winning architect, Sir Norman Foster, was commissioned in 1992 to transform the 19th century Reichstag building in Berlin, as the new home of a unified German Parliament after the fall of East Germany. Officially opened on April 19, 1999, the new Reichstag Dome is an evocative union of history and modern technology, creating a bold architectural vision that evokes transparency beyond structural boundaries.
The six-story Reichstag complex was originally designed in the style of the Italian High Renaissance by Frankfurt architect Paul Wallot. On June 29, 1884 the first foundation stone for the building was laid southeast of the meander of the Spree. After a 10-year construction period, the 13,290 square meters structure including four towers that are 40 meters high was completed in 1894.
After it opened in 1894, the Reichstag building housed the Parliament of Germany until 1933, when it was severely damaged in a fire. During World War II, the Reichstag building suffered heavy damage in bombing raids and the fight to take the building continued until the very end.
In 1955, the Bundestag decided to rebuild it, although without a dome as the original had been demolished in 1954 because it was structurally unsound. The decorative figures that had been destroyed were not restored, and the façade was simplified. Renovations to the building were carried out according to plans by Paul Baumgarten and not completed until 1972.
Between 1994 and 1999, the Reichstag was redesigned and expanded by the British architect Sir Norman Foster as a modern Parliament building while retaining its extensive, historical dimensions.
Known for sleek, modern designs of steel and glass, Foster’s design focused on making the processes of government more transparent for the German people with an innovative architectural Dome design that can be described as a sculpture of light.
His distinctive Reichstag Dome, made of glass and steel sits on top of one of the most politically significant structures in the twentieth century, the rebuilt Reichstag building, home to a unified Germany government.
The design of the high-tech glass dome is conceptually quite simple yet impressive. The Reichstag’s new cupola contains a skylight with a significant inverted cone of mirrors in the middle of the opening with reflected light that illuminates the chamber below.
The design symbolism of Foster’s structure creates a symbiotic relationship with the democratic ideal of, people above government. The dome is essentially a viewing platform from which the public can view the entire city as well as peer into the government chambers below.
Architect Sir Norman Foster’s brilliant gleaming glass and metal dome directly overlooks the debating chamber for the Bundestag, allowing the German people to look down upon their Government’s Parliamentary proceedings below.
A mirrored cone in the center of the dome directs natural sunlight into the building and includes clear panels so that visitors in the public space above can see the inner working of the chamber below.
Norman Foster wrote:
“The Reichstag’s new cupola or “lantern”, has quickly become a Berlin landmark. Within it, two helical ramps take members of the public to a viewing platform high above the plenary chamber, raising them symbolically above the heads of their political representatives. The cupola is both a generative element in the internal workings of the building and a key component in our light and energy saving strategies, communicating externally the themes of lightness, transparency, permeability and public access that underscore the project.”
The futuristic design also includes a spiraling ramp on the inside of the dome, which appears to be free floating, leading visitors up to a rooftop terrace with a spectacular 360-degree view across central Berlin.
The top of the glass dome includes an open-air viewing platform with an impressive 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The iconic glass cupola has proven to be an especially strong tourist attraction in Berlin and has become a symbol of the parliament and government district.
Norman Foster has successfully connected new and old, past and present with the epic new Reichstag Dome. Over eight hundred tons of steel and 3,000 square meters of glass went into building the structure, which is 23.5 meters high, while 360 mirrors provide daylight to the newly designed plenary chamber.
In sheer contrast to classical interpretation of ancient Roman architecture in which a buildings Dome was a grand element to be viewed from below, Fosters overarching theme of Germany’s new governmental transparency is the vision that created a new glass Reichstag Dome that is deliberately intended to be viewed from above. It truly symbolizes that the people are above the government.
While Fosters futuristic design for the Reichstag Dome was at first controversial, it has since become one of Germany’s most important architectural landmarks and Berlin’s top tourist attraction.