Dutch Embassy, Berlin, by Rem Koolhaas/OMA

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I only like writing about arcane housing projects from the eighties.  I do, but I occasionally cast my gaze elsewhere.  By way of proof, I finally got round to visiting the Dutch Embassy the other week, and here are some photos of it, although it was a bit of a grey wet day and I couldn’t be bothered to cross the river to get a better long shot.

Post-blog note, 2014: eventually I did:

Some architecture critics seem to be turning against Koolhaas and his progeny; one that I read recently described the Dutch embassy as, in essence, a ‘first year student project’.  (Interesting how ‘first year student project’ is a popular term of criticism these days – see recent comment on my Am Kupfergraben 10 / David Chipperfield post).  Anyway, I’m not very good at ‘reviewing’ buildings – I think it’s hard to make a definitive judgement on a building when it’s still ‘settling in’ to the landscape, but it succeeds well in its function here I think, or at least in projecting an image of the Dutch how I’m guessing they like to be perceived – slightly bonkers, but cool.

The embassy is very much a performance, a visual onslaught of slanting shapes, contrasting textures and theatrical lighting effects.  In fact Berlin architecture over the last eighty years has a strong tradition of theatrical lighting effects, from Hans Poelzig to, er, Albert Speer, and beyond.  That ‘Droog’ look of chandeliers and concrete is about to go out of fashion I suspect, so it will be interesting to see how the building feels in a few years time, when it’s no longer considered cutting edge.

In contrast to Rem’s slightly newer Casa del Musica in Porto, (I mention this ‘cos I was there a few days later) the embassy has less of the ‘just landed alien’ about it, and fits into the surrounding context, at least in terms of height and massing.  Koolhaas apparently aimed to turn the traditional Berlin model of a block with internal courtyard inside-out, resulting in a rather strange arrangement;  the main building is separated from the west and north sides by a kind of free-standing defensive wall, containing services and the ambassador’s quarters (actually, his number two) connected by a tier of footbridges.

The main building is essentially a ramp spiralling upwards through eleven staggered floor levels.  This may be a ‘first year student idea’, but it’s carried out with panache, and without feeling like you’ve come very far, you’re suddenly on the top floor.

If you want to visit, free guided tours are available, by contacting receptie@bln.nlamb.de. You need to give at least four working days notice, as well as your full name, nationality and passport number for each visitor, plus a contact number for the group.  It’s at Klosterstraße 50, 10179 Berlin.

Anyway, some images.  Don’t mind anyone using these, by the way, but would be grateful if you could credit me and/or put a link.  I’ve come across a few elsewhere recently.  Surprising as my photography is pretty amateur…


A strategically placed plant avoids people banging their heads as the floor/ceiling height unexpectedly reduces:

Some fellow visitors are shown the opening in the outer wall through which you could see the top of the TV tower.  If it wasn’t raining.

A sofa in reception, which I think is by Future Systems

Model – note the separate ‘outer wall’.

More images on our Flickr.


2 thoughts on “Dutch Embassy, Berlin, by Rem Koolhaas/OMA

  1. Nice comment.
    I was looking for a photo of he plant on the stairs 🙂
    Nowadays you’re not allowed anymore to take photo’ s of the interior.

    • That’s a shame – although I guess the photos don’t do it justice. Thanks for commenting, it’s been a while since I looked at this post! I still think of it as one of my favourite buildings in Berlin.


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