The architects’ (Hybrid Space Lab) plan is in line with the undoubtedly most important question for contemporary cultural identity: the relationship between tradition and innovation. Their idea of a growing green world around the castle is the portrayal of the idea of tradition as a dynamic phenomenon.
In his studio on the Spree, Frans Vogelaar spreads a computer print on the table. It is the Berlin city palace, although slightly different. The palace is overgrown with plants and palms on the large, printed banner. Colorful exotic animals can also be found on it. On top of the dome stands a gorilla instead of a cross. Vogelaar, originally a Dutch architect, once part of the office of Rem Koolhaas, has been working in Berlin for years. With his partner Elizabeth Sikiaridi, an architect with British-Greek background, he forms Hybrid Space Lab, a think tank, which “influences” design and urbanism with experimental ideas. The encounter is a coincidence. Exactly in the same month that I started researching the Berlin city palace, Vogelaar sends me an email about his plans for this city palace. The idea for the Humboldt Jungle, as one of their cheerful variations on the city castle is called, was born out of dissatisfaction with the architectural transformation of the Humboldt Forum, Vogelaar explains. They were asked by a politician from the Green Party to do something with “green” around the palace and then came up with the wild idea of the Jungle. A few years later they came up with a second, more extensive variant: the Humboldt Volcano. Vogelaar looks somewhat amused at his own design. It is an outrageous explosion of cheerfulness, colors, and shapes. But his idea behind it is serious: this would not only give the city an experimental variant of a baroque palace that literally “grows grass over the historic wounds of this location”. But it is also a symbol that according to Hybrid Space Lab fits better to the identity of the country in the twenty-first century.
Because the problem is fundamental, say Vogelaar and Sikiaridi; the façade of an old imperial palace is not exactly something you associate with a “bunte”, multicultural society, what the Humboldt Forum actually wants to propagate. Hybrid Space Lab’s ideas are based on “German traditions”, but not those of Prussian rulers. On the contrary, they want to show the anarchist, ecological and adventurous part of German culture: Von Humboldt’s urge to discover, his ecological ideas, the concepts for glass buildings by German architect Bruno Taut from the interbellum, and other German traditions that counterbalance the palace and the power structures it embodies.
The idea of the Humboldt Jungle has become increasingly popular over the years. According to Vogelaar, it is striking that the interest in their proposal has increased as more of the palace can be seen in public. In the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel their concept was printed in large format, DIE Zeit published the headline “Is this the rescue?” above its article. And they also talked to politicians. The chance that something will be realized is as good as zero, Vogelaar says chuckling. Von Boddien, the initiator of the reconstruction, said at a first meeting around the proposal: “The idea is so good that you have to be immediately against it, otherwise the Berliners want it.” But it does not have to be immediately implemented, it can also be done later, after the palace has been built, says Vogelaar. For around 40 million euros extra, their plan could be realized, and it can always grow as time goes on.
The architects’ plan is in line with the undoubtedly most important question for contemporary cultural identity: the right relationship between tradition and innovation. Their idea of a growing green world around the castle is the portrayal of the idea of tradition as a dynamic phenomenon. Only by adapting to new circumstances can traditions survive, Herfried and Marina Münkler write in the book “Die neuen Deutschen”. Because “identities are determined by their capacity to expand, transform and adapt”. But then of course the problem only begins. Because what is the best balance between tradition and innovation? As the TV presenter of the famous Hart aber Fair talk show in an episode on the theme of Heimat in 2019 formulates: “How can one’s own [identity] be protected without closing itself in for the foreign or unconventional?”