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The German Reichstag building at night in modern day

Norman Foster and the Dramatic Renovations of Reichstag


In 1999, the old German Parliament building, the Reichstag, underwent its most dramatic and gorgeous renovation since its original construction.

The legendary Reichstag, which houses the German Parliament building, has been overcoming obstacles for nearly a century. The architect Paul Wallot (1814-1912) finished the building, after 23 years of construction, in 1894. In 1933 a fire destroyed the cupola and much of the building. Then, during the Second World War, bombing nearly left the Reichstag in ruins. And Although the building was repaired in 1960, renovators did not use Wallot’s original design of the dome.

Recently, the English architect Norman Foster (Manchester, 1935) was hired to put new spirit into the old Reichstag. The renovation gained international interest when his firm, Foster & Partners, started making both aesthetic and technological innovations to the dome. The elliptical ramps spiraling up the inside of the structure are meant to symbolically raise citizens up above their government.

This is just another of Foster’s inspiring touches. And while working on the project he considered four key points: 1, the recognition that the German Parliament as one of the most important centers of democracy in the world; 2, the desire to make the workings of the government more accessible to German citizens; 3, the understanding of history as a force that changes buildings as well as nations; and 4, the necessity of making an energy efficient building, which is, according to Foster, “fundamental to our future.”

The Reichstag has become an inspiration for architects around the world. The new technology in the dome works as a local power plant, capturing both solar and wind energy, and even makes use of energy converted from vegetable oil. In the end, it saves so much energy that it helps to power the neighboring buildings. The central cone in the beautiful cupola maintains a pleasant air temperature as well as consistent light throughout the year. Even at night, this cupola elegantly illuminates the Berlin skyline.

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