Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, 2000

The first large-scale project to be built in the largest construction site in the world (post-wall Berlin), Renzo Piano's Daimler Benz towers sits in Potsdamer Platz, the German pre-War equivalent of Times Square, giving an optimistic start to the developments at Potsdamer and the rest of Berlin. Eschewing the typical Berlin architecture of heavy walls with punched openings, Piano created a "light construction" building that seems original, yet not out of place. The office building parallels Piano's development of a personal style that finds a suitable and original tectonic solution to programmatic concerns, while becoming beautifully expressive structures.

The project is made up of a tower and stepped low-scale buildings of seven to nine stories. Although the tower's height begs attention, the treatment of the facade gives its appearance and effect a distinguished and elegant modesty. Two sides of the tower utilize an louvered outer wall that opens and shuts automatically with an inner skin made up of operable pane-glass, giving the occupants the freedom to control internal climates. Popular in Europe, this double skin (also known as breathing wall) is more economical than others appearing in the continent, especially of the other tectonic practitioner Norman Foster, which tend to be more elaborate. The facade also permits multiple looks, as the light reflects off the ever-changing exterior surfaces. The other sides of the tower, along with the lower portions, utilizes a different system for the facade; a terra cotta cladding. The carefully articulated and proportioned panels express the structure behind its skin, though also act as a protective surface for the louvered blinds that can be lowered between the ceramic and the glass behind.
Going back to Berlin, one is first struck by the emptiness of the city. Individuals and groups moving about in its streets have a kind of solitude about them.   -Walter Benjamin
These two systems give the building its civic presence, but the project extends this presence to the interior, where an atrium is the first of, hopefully, many interior public spaces which will be created in the Potsdamer Platz complex. Treated as an exterior wall the "facade" separating the atrium from the offices utilizes a combination of the two wall systems used on the rest of the building. terra cotta bats are used to cover the vertical structure, while the in-between space is made up of paned glass, similar to the towers exterior, with fritted glass slats (patterned delicately) above and below the strips of windows. The slats softens the light pouring through the skylights above (which also use slats to initially tone down the light) and also act as sound diffusers for the offices behind.

In the realm of office building the architect's liberties are the exterior wall and the few, if any, public spaces. Piano responded to this condition with a practical consideration manifesting itself in a tectonic intelligence. It is the coupling of this consideration with a designer's sensibility that he has created a building that is useful and produces a precedent in the area for a private building with a civic presence, something rare and of, unfortunately, little concern nowadays.