Mega-projects don’t always live up to what they are supposed to be. They might appear compelling from a distance but can disappoint you when you meet them “face to face”. This cannot be said about Berlin’s Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz, however. If anything, this fascinating group of structures has surpassed even the greatest of expectations.
It wasn’t very long after the fall of the Berlin Wall that Sony began making plans for building its European Headquarters at Potsdamer Platz. A modern center was to be built upon the old, historical center of Berlin, so to speak. A “new modern” center, to be exact, if you prefer to use a term often attributed to the style of the center’s architect, Helmut Jahn.
New Modernist has been defined as a style in which the use of new environmental technology predominates, new materials and methods of fabrication are used, and above all else, a redefinition of urban places takes place. This is certainly what happened at Potsdamer Platz with the Sony Center. But regardless which term you choose to use, this place is now a must-see destination for any visitor to “new” Berlin.
The “original” Potsdamer Platz was one of the busiest junctions in Europe. It was a synonym for fast pace city life in the 1920s and has been referred to by some as being the Times Square of Berlin. It was badly damaged during World War II however, and became a desolate no man’s land during the Cold War years – the Berlin Wall i.e. the American, British and Soviet sectors cut right through the middle here and wooden observation posts along the West-Berlin side provided a rather morbid view to the “death strip” in the East.
After the German reunification and the Berlin Wall’s disappearance, Potsdamer Platz then became the biggest building site in Europe. And it was during this period, roughly between 1993 and 1998, that a completely new quarter came into existence. The Sony Center, inaugurated in 2000, is viewed by many to have become this quarter’s new center of gravity.
All one has to do is take a quick peek at the tent-shaped peak topping the Forum, the dramatic, roofed public space at the center of the Center, to feel the architectural high energy field that has been created here. Surrounding the Forum, in triangular form (a “square” city block as triangle, so to speak), the ensemble of structures called the Sony Center, comprised of seven separate buildings, are all of various sizes, shapes and identities. One of these is the striking, transparent office tower. Its 103 meter tall silhouette has earned it landmark status here. The Film Museum is housed in a neighboring, glass-cased building, and is also a big favorite with visitors here.
And the word transparency seems to be the best term available to describe the feeling here in other ways, as well. These buildings offer the visitors and residents alike a transparent mixture of and a smooth transition between office space, retail stores, residential areas, cinema, restaurants and cultural venues. This is the first time that such a mixture of purpose had been tried in the Berlin, and perhaps this explains its irresistible popularity among the residents here. The Berliners love the Sony Center.
And when you, the visitor, walk through the beautiful, spoke-like elliptical umbrella above the Forum, you too will enter into a type of dialogue with the neighboring buildings. The pedestrian is in center stage at the Sony Center and plays a role here himself. He is quite literally in the spotlight here because this architecture of glass is also, after all, and an architecture light.
So don’t miss the opportunity to visit Berlin’s Sony Center. The “real” city will still be waiting for you when you are finished here. But take your time. Come and bath in the light and play your role in the making of “new modernest” history.