April 1, 2006
by Canadian Architect
While we recognize that every effort was made to ensure the crediting for the Canadian Embassy in Berlin was thorough and complete, it is regrettable that several omissions occurred. The principals Barbara and Jacek Vogel of Vogel Architect should be credited as the Consulting Architect. They were active participants in the design competition, contributing valuable insights and expertise with respect to the planning and conception of the scheme gained from previous work on other Canadian embassies. On the architectural project team, Mitchell Hall, an associate at KPMB, should also have been credited as being part of the design team.
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
Canada’s new embassy in Berlin is quite simply a hit with everyone who has visited it, with the unfortunate exception of Mr. Mays (“Diplomatically Speaking,” CA, February 2006). Since its opening in April 2005, it has welcomed more than 120,000 visitors, all of whom consider it to be a superb platform for providing Canada’s programs and services abroad. Indeed, the “Berlin model” has become the point of reference against which other projects in the Department are measured. The fact that the Canadian government “solemnly empanelled” a jury to advise it certainly did not mean that the government surrendered either its duty or its responsibility to make the final decision as to how taxpayers’ dollars would be spent. As for the design itself, it is a triumph of applied innovative thinking in a tightly controlled and regulated design environment. Despite all the restrictions imposed– primarily by the Berlin planning authorities who, despite the criticisms of Mr. Mays, are well within their rights to decide how they want their city to be rebuilt–the Canadian team of architects provided a design that is elegant, impressive and very representative of Canada. Each one of the eight exposed faades is unique and pulled together into a very pleasing and integrated whole by, as Mr. Mays allows, the extensive use of Canadian building materials. At one point, Mr. Mays complains that the reception and entrance area conveys an impression of “businesslike seriousness and entrepreneurial purpose,” as if that is wrong. Yet he notes that Canada’s primary interests with Germany are economic. He then goes on to lament that there is little in the embassy scheme that troubles the illusion of viewing Canada as merely a land of magnificent forests, rivers and mountains, arguing that the selection of building materials as well as the selection of integrated art “seem to have been chosen to reinforce the romantic German notion [of Canada].” Which is it, Mr. Mays, that you don’t like? The businesslike entrepreneurial image, or the magnificent forests? Still not content with criticizing the embassy and the Berlin authorities, he then criticizes former Minister Axworthy for choosing the Leipziger Platz site in the first place. Come now, Mr. Mays. The new Canadian embassy is within easy walking distance of the French, Russian, British and US embassies, the Reichstag, the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, the Tiergarten, the Lander Houses (the Berlin seats of the German provinces) and a huge underground transportation hub for the S-bahn, U-bahn and trams. Perhaps one of the saddest omissions in his article is that, while he notes that Canada has paid approximately $35 million to lease some 7,500 square metres of a 14,500-square-metre facility for a term of 35 years, he fails to mention that at the end of those 35 years, title to the entire facility will be vested in Canada at no additional cost. Canada will own the entire facility for about half of what it cost to build. Not a bad deal, eh Mr. Mays? Diplomatically speaking, the new Canadian embassy in Berlin is not bad, not bad at all.
Frank Townson (Retired)
Former Project Director