The construction of the Humboldt Forum is progressing in leaps and bounds. The first rooms, complete with display cases and visible storage, are finished. The exterior, on the other hand, is still very much a building site.
Parts of the open space around the building belong to the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, others are public streets owned by the State of Berlin. The two owners have agreed to divide the work as follows: the Stiftung will structure all the areas inside the building complex, while the State of Berlin will structure everything in the surrounding area, irrespective of whether it belongs to the Stiftung or to the State. The area around the Palace is a so-called “development scheme”, two-thirds of which will be financed by the federal government and one third by the State of Berlin. However, the necessary work in the exterior space also includes facilities for the building itself, such as sewage pipes and cables, facade lighting, video surveillance and information pillars. All exterior building measures will be commissioned by the State of Berlin and carried out by the urban development company Deutsche Stadt- und Grundstücksentwicklungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG (DSK).
The building has two internal public spaces: the Schlüterhof courtyard and the passage leading from the Lustgarten to Breite Straße. In architectural terms, the gateways function as “city gates”. The Schlüterhof courtyard, or “piazza”, is an urban location with a wonderfully theatrical feel that functions both as public stage and events venue. Both spaces are open to the public day and night. The Schlüterhof courtyard will be paved in the original style but using new material (the original historic paving can be viewed in the stairwell). The colonnaded passage is a new creation by architect Franco Stella and has no historical antecedent. It will therefore be paved in natural modern stone.
The planning for the exterior areas was undertaken by the winners of the competition, bbz Landschaftsarchitekten Berlin. The design for the side of the Humboldt Forum facing the Spree embankment is especially striking. In order to fulfil accessibility requirements, access to the path along the Spree is via a ramp some ninety metres long. Like the ramps and quay wall, the retaining wall to the building will be clad in natural stone, harmonizing visually with the design of the Palace.
The southern Lustgarten area will be dominated by a large square leading onto the street as well as the contemporary interpretations of the Palace Terraces adjoining the Humboldt Forum facade on either side of Gate 4. The arrangement and proportions of the terrace flower beds were inspired by Lenné’s historical designs but have been adapted to the site and its meaning today. Surrounded by protective hedges, botanical tableaux develop with the seasons to represent three vegetation zones, analogous to the three continents of Eurasia, South America and North America visited by Alexander von Humboldt. The plant tableaux are artistic renditions that also reference the formal and decorative terraces of the old Berlin Palace by means of variation and repetition. A footpath leads up to the granite- edged terraces into which seating has been integrated. Three larger groups of trees, some individual trees and the terrace planting will make the urban space feel more relaxed and full of life.
The open space to the west of the Palace, the so-called Schlossfreiheit, will be dominated by a one-way street for buses, taxis and bicycles. This is also where the U-Bahn entrances and exits will be located. The southern section of the Palace Square will be paved with natural stone. Here the Humboldt Forum has reserved a space for the Palace fountain, which is the Neptune Fountain currently still located in front of the Rotes Rathaus. It will eventually be moved back to the area in front of Gate 2, in the visual axis of Breite Straße, where it stood until the Palace was detonated.
The exterior will probably not be completed until 2022, since the new U-Bahn station and the space for the future Freedom and Unity Monument will continue to be large building sites around the Humboldt Forum until 2021. The side facing the Spree and the areas to the south and north of the building as far as Gates 2 and 4 should be ready by the end of this year. The building’s utility concept requires that rapid evacuation routes as well as access for emergency vehicles are guaranteed. In 2019, the main aim is to make as much space available as is necessary for the building to go into operation. Only then can we open on time.
Hans-Dieter Hegner was appointed to the Executive Board of the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss in early 2016 with responsibility for all construction-related matters. With a background in construction engineering, he previously headed a division in the German Federal Ministry focusing on civil engineering, sustainable construction, construction research, and other issues related to building culture.