The site of the palace is one of the oldest settlements in Potsdam. A number of fortifications, fortresses and castles had been here until Great Elector Frederick William had a new palace built between 1664 and 1669 based on the Dutch model. Before he crowned himself Frederick I of Prussia in 1701, Elector Frederick III first added the Fortuna Gate (Fortunaportal), a structure that
would stand virtually unaltered until the destruction of the city palace.
In 1740 Frederick II became the King of Prussia. He turned the city of Potsdam into a place of residence and in 1745 appointed the architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff to remodel the Baroque palace in the style of Frederician Rococo. The city palace thus took on its final form, which would be the prototype for the new Landtag building more than 250 years later. One of the finest squares in Europe arose as a result of its interaction with the buildings in Alter Markt.
The palace was no longer used as a residence after the First
World War. An extensive building programme produced an assembly hall for the city councillors, together with rooms for committee meetings and parliamentary groups. Formerly a stately home, the palace was now transformed into an integral part of urban life.
The city of Potsdam suffered repeated aerial bombardments during the Second World War triggered by Nazi-Germany. The city palace and many buildings in the immediate vicinity burnt down as far as the enclosing walls during a major offensive by the British air force on 14 April 1945. High-explosive bombs had left a trail of destruction through the west wing and destroyed much of the Fortuna Gate. Almost the entire expanse of the remaining facades was preserved as far up as the fascias.
A new German nation, the GDR (German Democratic Republic), was established in the Soviet occupation zone in 1949. According to a survey, approximately 80 per cent of the remaining city palace walls would still have been intact when those in power decided in 1959 to have them completely demolished. Despite vehement protests from the people of Potsdam, the palace was levelled and the rubble used as infill for the Pleasure Garden (Lustgarten). Some citizens had the presence of mind to salvage valuable pieces of the facade.
The erstwhile town centre now became a wasteland. There were various plans for redevelopment between the 1950s and 1970s but these came to nothing, mainly on the grounds of cost. A number of roads were built over the site instead. It became a traffic junction and no longer dominated the urban landscape as it used to do. At the end of the 1980s, construction began on a new theatre in Alter Markt. The shell was pulled down in 1991 in the wake of the Peaceful Revolution in the autumn of 1989.
The debate on shaping the centre of Potsdam did not cease after the city palace was torn down, because the area left behind was perceived as a gaping wound. In 1990, the city of Potsdam decided that the future development of the city centre would be in keeping with its historic appearance. In 1999, the city assembly (Stadtverordnetenversammlung) declared the centre of Potsdam to be a redevelopment area. The goal was a “redevelopment of the former city palace in an approximation of the original cubature and layout, as well as its public use”.
The “Förderverein für den Wiederaufbau des Fortunaportals” (Association for the Reconstruction of the Fortuna Gate) was set up at the end of March 1999. After being blown up, all that remained of the gate was the foundation. Traditional building techniques and intact original parts were used in the reconstruction, which was funded by donations. The ground-breaking ceremony was held in September 2000 and the official inauguration on 12 October 2002.
On 20 May 2005, the Landtag passed a resolution to erect a new parliament building within the perimeter and outlines of the historic Potsdam city palace. A subsequent public survey in the city of Potsdam revealed clear approval for a new Landtag building in Alter Markt. The preliminary archaeological survey of the city palace site began in 2006.
The Royal BAM Group consortium of bidders, together with architect Prof. Peter Kulka, was awarded the contract. The project agreement was signed in September 2009. The investor was commissioned with the planning, construction, financing and operation of the Landtag building for a period of 30 years.
A donation of 20 million euro was made by the Hasso Plattner Foundation to the Land of Brandenburg to ensure that the Landtag building conformed as far as possible to the structure and appearance of the facade of the Potsdam city palace. This allowed the outside of the building to be restored in sympathy with the workmanship and materials of the original. A further donation from this patron in 2011 enabled the roof to be covered with historically authentic copper.
The external facades and all the facades on the front sections in Alter Markt have been reconstructed, i. e. restored in accordance with historic plans, measurements and photographs. The outer skin of the external wall has been made of solid brickwork and rendered. Building components made of different varieties of sandstone, such as cornices and pilasters, have also been reconstructed, with all the surfaces being finished by hand. So-called bush hammering requires well-practised tool skills. The hammer blows are delivered in parallel and must be struck with equal force.
The box-type windows have an outer casing of wood and are also in keeping with their historic predecessors. The inner casing of the window functions as sound and heat insulation. Air circulates between the two casings to allow natural ventilation of the rooms.
In total, 307 original building components and stone fragments were installed in their original positions. The parapets on the exterior facades have been designed and equipped to take existing decorative sculptures as well as additional figures to be made in keeping with the original models. The reproduction of decorative sculptures is to be made possible by donations.
As with the former city palace, the sandstone on the facades was mined from Saxon quarries. The main stone for the primary structures is Postaer sandstone. Unfortunately, no original fragments of plaster remain from the upper wall zone. However, natural stone components found in the vicinity did allow conclusions to be drawn about the original red ochre colour typical of the era.
The pilaster was a popular element of prestige architecture
from the time of the Renaissance until the end of the 19th
century. In the case of the city palace, the base was highly
contoured, the shaft was composed of several individual
plates and the capital was elaborately finished. The many
original variations were reduced to 16 pilaster types for the
new Landtag building. These differ in width and in function. In total, 187 pilasters have been integrated into the facade of the Landtag.
The roof space has been converted into a fully usable floor in order to meet the requirements of the Land parliament for extra space. Small recessed window openings, which were not in the original palace facade, are integrated into the attic frieze for this additional upper floor. They are meant to be as unobtrusive as possible, are aligned to the structural division of the facades and are evenly inset with no visible jambs. The rooms on this floor also have skylights to provide daylight.
The three upper floors of the side wing accommodate the members’ offices with small meeting rooms and the Land Court of Audit. The offices incorporate the pattern of the historic facade.
The Fortuna Gate forms the main entrance to the Landtag building. The passageway opens out into the public inner courtyard of the parliament building. Grassed and paved areas are laid out in a geometric pattern. Benches provide a pleasant place to sit. As a result of the public “Kunst am Bau” (art in architecture) competition, the inner courtyard will host “Zugabe” (“Encore”), a work of art by Cologne artist Florian Dombois with two illusionary pavilions derived from the central oval of Sanssouci Palace.
The central wing has been extended up to the inner courtyard in order to accommodate the development, the meeting rooms, the plenary chamber and the offices of the Landtag Presiding Committee. It has also been necessary to extend the side wings to provide accommodation for administrative departments, parliamentary groups and members’ areas along both sides rather than just one. The rooms are now accessed from a central rather than a side corridor. Together with the newly emerging balanced proportions of the inner courtyard, the modules, textures and ornamentation against the background rhythm of projecting and recessed facades are in keeping with the spirit of the original.
The Knobelsdorff staircase forms the link between the historic facade structure and the modern interior architecture of the new Brandenburg Landtag. Visitors cross the staircase on their way into the Landtag foyer.
Initially built as a front façade in the centre of the corps de logis when the palace was converted into the residence of the Prussian King Frederick II in 1744, the space has been recreated in keeping with the original exterior and reproduces the dimensions of the interior, including the staircase and the vestiges of any remaining examples of pictorial artwork.
Six original reliefs dating back to 1750 by Benjamin Giese in the style of Johann August Nahl decorate the staircase. Motifs from ancient Greece epitomise the power of music. Four marble atlases by Johann Peter Benckert, Johann Gottlieb Heymüller and Johann Christoph Petzold dating back to 1748 dominate the corners of the stairway dome, which is designed as a Rabitz ceiling. Areas of damage to the corpora remain and bear witness to the eventful history of the place.
As the Land parliament [from French parler – to speak], the Landtag is a place of public debate, speeches and objections, argument and decision-making. This is why the plenary chamber is the centrepiece of the Landtag building. It has enough room for 88 members and a visitor gallery for 160 people.
For the first time, the new plenary chamber allows members of the Brandenburg Landtag to assemble in a room that was designed and built for this specific purpose. The semi-circular seating arrangement epitomises the importance of the democratic decisions taken from amidst the assembled members – just as envisaged by the Constitution.
The white, silver and red that dominate the plenary chamber are derived from the colours of the Land of Brandenburg. A domelight in the historic middle belvedere has a transparent air cushion allowing constant natural daylight into the plenary chamber. As dusk sets in, this is gently enhanced by additional lighting. The ceiling is separated from the chamber walls by a strip of light.
The eagle is a recurring theme on the rebuilt city palace and in the Landtag – in gilded Prussian guise outside the front door, as a heroic heraldic animal on the Land flag and restrained, modern and bright in the plenary chamber. The eagle in the plenary chamber is not meant as a national emblem, but as a work of art interacting with the light, white spatial structure to create awareness
The workplace of the Presiding Committee is in an elevated position behind the lectern and below the figure of the eagle. It is incumbent on the Landtag President and Vice-President to take it in turns to lead the plenary debate and voting. Recording clerks, who are duly appointed by the parliamentary groups from the circle of members, assist the Acting President in her or his work.
The Minister-President and his ministers sit opposite the members to the left and right of the lectern. The members elect the Minister-President, take decisions on the Land budget and monitor the work of the Land government.
When outside the plenary chamber, the members, the parliamentary groups and the supporting Landtag administration are now able to work in rooms that are suitable for a modern parliament. A good example of the political work of the Landtag is the meetings held by its committees. Committee meetings are the engine rooms of the parliamentary process to some extent.
At the start of the fifth legislative term, the Landtag Brandenburg decided to make meetings of the expert committees accessible to the public in the same way as the plenary sessions are already open to the public under the Constitution. This is where battle is done over the details of an amending law, where experts and interested parties have their say and where the course is set for the final vote. Three spacious meeting rooms are provided for these discussions among members, making it far easier now for interested visitors and media representatives to attend the committee meetings and follow the debates. There are another eight meeting rooms for the parliament’s groups and other bodies.
Situated on the ground floor of the main wing is the Landtag foyer with an exhibition area, cafeteria, cloakroom and rooms for groups of visitors and press conferences. In the left of these three flexible rooms, part of the Swedish limestone floor in what was the Garden Room during the rule of the electors and subsequently a wine cellar has been made visible in an archaeological window.
Newly created stairways and lifts in spaces suffused with light take visitors from here up to the first floor, which has the plenary chamber and the Presiding Committee area with the offices of the Landtag President, Vice-President and Landtag director. More meeting rooms are situated at the interfaces between the side wings and south wing so that they run alongside the plenary chamber and connect it to the offices of the individual parliamentary groups. Members of the press and visitors are taken to the press and public galleries, another level up. The fourth floor houses the Landtag canteen, which has seating for 160 people and a
large roof terrace, as well as the library.
The useful area of the building, including the underground car park, is around 19,000 m², the gross room volume 150,632 m² and the gross floor area 34,525 m². The building has 390 office workstations in total. Energy-efficient building technology keeps running costs low and conserves resources. Intelligent lighting adapts to the natural incidence of light. The walls have integrated cooling and heating modules to keep the room temperature constant. The heating switches off automatically if the windows are
opened to let in air.
The Contemplation Room in the basement of the Landtag provides a break from the frequently hectic parliamentary routine. An ecumenical prayer service is held here before every plenary session. The room is not laid out according to any particular faith and is open to all people, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Like the Landtag building as a whole, the Contemplation Room is characterised by a plain design language. The functional interior design reflects the duties and functions of the Land parliament under constitutional law. The design principles of openness, clarity and transparency symbolise the precepts upon which the democratic political system of the Land of Brandenburg is founded.
After years of making do with the site on Potsdam’s Brauhausberg, the new parliament building in Alter Markt has moved the Landtag Brandenburg closer to the people in the literal sense of the word. The architectural concept behind the new Landtag means that citizens are not just occasional visitors to the building, but users of it as well. Due consideration has been given to accessibility in all public areas with easy-to-reach wheelchair spaces, induction loops for the hard-of-hearing and guides for the visually
Even though the Landtag building has been completed on the site of the historic city palace, the reshaping of Potsdam’s centre is not yet finished. There are plans for a modern residential and commercial district to be built in the area around Alter Markt and the Landtag over the next few years. The Alte Fahrt quarter will then constitute a complete series of developments, some with historic facades like the Palais Barberini. In future, it will once again be possible to reach the new Potsdam Museum, which opened in August 2012 in the Altes Rathaus, and the associated Knobelsdorffhaus via historic Humboldtstraße on the
east side of the new Landtag building. Steubenplatz, which was originally situated west of the city palace, will also be restored by 2014. The dilapidated technical college building is also set to be replaced by a new building modelled on the original by 2018 at the latest. Apartment buildings, shops and cafés will then breathe new life into Alter Markt, along with the Landtag and its streams of visitors, thus allowing the former hub of the city to blossom anew.