The Austrian Embassy

The Austrian Embassy
Berlin, Germany

"Hollein has created an unusual mixture of an untamed individual building and a liberated peripheral street block."  - Michael Mönninger

Up until the thirties the area surrounding the Austrian Embassy was part of the tradition of the borough of Tiergarten, i.e. the tradition of a fashionable residential suburb and recreation area. In the end, it was occupied by a market garden and a park restaurant with its own merry-go-round. So the history of this area - from detached urban villas surrounded by gardens to the densely built-up metropolitan center edging forward towards the West - called for a far more flexible response form the architect than just a re-establishment of the old city layout. The Austrian Embassy houses three functions: the consular department, the embassy offices, and the ambassador's residence. Consequently, Hollein’s is a three-part design of sections which are pushed one into the other form outside in, and at the time modulated from inside out.

Towards the East, on Shauffenbergstrasse, the rectangular consular wing shows a calm facade, perforated by dense rows of windows, underneath a recessed parapet level - bringing to mind the neo-classical modernism of the Viennese Broadcasting House by Hollein’s teacher Clemens Holzmeister. This street facade corresponds perfectly with the public urban aspect of the blocks on the other side of the street with their uninterrupted row of facades. The publicly accessible areas with visa and tourist offices are located on the ground floor. Above it are the ambassador’s and departmental attachés’ offices and reception spaces, and on the third floor some apartments for embassy staff. Political officials will enter the building on the same level as the public, but from the other, northern, side of the building where the rectangular stone-box consular wing joins the copper-clad ellipse of the ambassadorial wing.

On the exterior the sculptural curve of the building corner overlays the basic figure of the ellipse and also shapes the design of the two-storey ambassador’s office with a gallery mezzanine along three walls and a large window opening up the Tiergarten panorama. Here the stringency of the streets edge enclosure is attenuated: the building recedes from the building line and follows the wide dynamic curve of the central metal-clad structure. Facade and roof merge to a sculptural form and its subdued opulence, as seen from Tiergartenstrasse, visibly marks the beginning of the representational part of the embassy building.
The Ambassador’s office
The facade openings of this side are also powerfully rhythmical, partly due to the “acceleration effect” of the continuous window bands, and in part through the tall glass walls which open up the western hall for official functions onto the garden driveway. What is suggested by the facade development becomes a certainty when the visitor enters the depth of the building behind the third entrance on Tiergartenstrasse, the grand entrée for formal receptions. It gives access to a full-height elliptic atrium with glass skylight, evoking the gorge of the central daylit hall of Hollein’s Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art with its vertical self-supporting stairway, gallery walks and widening diameter towards the top. The round building leads to the ambassador’s residence to the west who reaches his private and guest rooms via a fourth entrance. All three residential floors are fitted with terraces and balconies.
The fourth building section, finally, is open to view only from the rear garden and consists of a fully glazed three-storey loggia with dining room on the ground floor, and conference rooms and winter garden on the upper levels. The transparent garden was pushed right back into the inner spandrel so that the slight straddle of consular and residential wings appear as a meaningful consequence of this exterior turned interior space. Through its rotation of 270 degrees the entire building effects a gradual transformation: from the compact outer enclosure toward Stauffenbergstrasse to total transparency at the garden front.

The building sections are made of different materials. The cubic blocks are in stucco and stone while the contoured superstructure is clad in copper. The labyrinthine multi-accessibility of spaces via corner openings, practised by Hollein in his museum designs, is applied here to the composition of all three building sections. Despite their independence their foyers and circulation spaces are linked in such a way that the visitor at any points is offered a choice of at least two different access routes - both horizontally across skilfully interwoven floor spaces, and vertically via broad and narrow stairways. Such density and intensity is created mainly by means of an overlaying of orthogonal and round space enfilades, and step-wise opening of the building’ interior by way of vistas through and from the building, transit areas and spatial sequences. Although Hollein treated the different facades and building elements in rather a sculptural than a strictly tectonic manner, he offers the best possible conditions for good-neighbourly architectural relationships. Hollein has created an unusual mixture of an untamed individual building and a liberated peripheral street block: a palais that by its own strength is bound for the creation of an ensemble and open for the architectural context that is yet to be.



14 photos and 3 drawings

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