As a historic site, the property itself is the first exhibit of the “Topography of Terror”. Of the buildings in which the Gestapo, SS (Schutzstaffel, security force in the German Reich) and Reichssicherheitshauptamt (central security office of the German Reich) established themselvesin the time of National Socialist tyranny, numerous physical traces remain – mainly basement wall and foundation remnants. Today the remains of a motor-racing circuit and the locust grove that covers them bear witness to the post-war era, which nearly forgot the history of the site with underground demolition and profane uses.
Even though the physical traces alone do not speak for themselves, they do form a connection between the history of this place and the present day life of the observer. The actual historic site permits more intensive and direct access; it localises history in concrete terms. The new architecture of the site and the building does not intend to serve as a memorial or interpret the historic events related to this place. It is not intended to draw attention away from the historic site with its history and to itself as a representative symbol. The new architecture refrains from orchestrating the site.
It is due to its very emptiness that the site appears irritating in its urban environment, which is defined by the city that has been rebuilt over past years with its completed and renovated blocks, streets and eaves. The new building is positioned on the site as a free-standing, flat, quadratic cube that purposely refrains from following any lines created by earlier structures or streets. The emptiness is preserved and underscored by covering the site with a uniform layer of crushed natural stone (greywacke gravel).
Communication and transparency are the focal points, formally and in terms of content. An atmosphere is created which stimulates the visitor to examine the facts and relationships that are permanently brought to light here, allowing him or her to approach the subject individually or on guided tours, to learn and to exchange information.
The only way to prevent (renewed) forgetfulness is to counter it with continuous information and learning. Creating the best structural conditions to achieve this purpose is the objective of the site and building architecture.
Building – Main Floor
The structure of the main floor (exhibition level) is slightly offset from the site. The sheath – which simultaneously serves as a fixed sunscreen – creates a quiet, uniform appearance for the building which is visible as a flat cube from any side when viewed from the site. With a readily apparent recess, this sheath only opens on the access side in the area of the entryway and foyer.
Here the focus is on total transparency and a visual link between the inner and outer spaces. The expansive steel-reinforced concrete structure – the dimension between the axes of the supports and the dimension of the eight square sections is 18 x 18 m – offers open space and ultimate flexibility in its use. From the entryway and foyer, the key areas that are arranged around the courtyard in an open spatial sequence can be perceived immediately: exhibition area, information, café, event hall and the flight of steps to the basement. The transparency of the exhibition level towards the property consciously emphasises visual relationships to the historic site. Relationships to the time of day and season can be experienced through the incoming natural light.
Daylight, few materials and transparency inside the new structure combined with the resulting interrelationships with the site define the concept of the building and the permanent exhibition “Topography of Terror” which is being installed here.
The main level is equipped with a continuous suspended ceiling in an open grid.
Soundabsorbing acoustic elements, standard and security lighting as well as other technical installations are located above the suspended ceiling. Lighting and mounting rails installed flush with the ceiling are able to respond to the desired flexible arrangement of the exhibition elements (art gallery principle).
Building – Basement
From the upper main foyer, access to the basement is provided by the flight of steps (or barrierfree via the elevator). As a symbol for delving into something, researching and documenting – “exploring in depth” – this is where the public library is found along with seminar and conference facilities. The Topography of Terror Foundation and the memorial department with their offices are also housed in the basement along with the repository, archives and central engineering rooms.
Three different situations open the basement to the outside: to the east with an excavation which establishes an immediate relationship to the site for the seminar facilities found here, to the west with an areaway that is accessible from the foundation offices. The square courtyard designed with a flat water surface is located in the middle of the building, with the library surrounding it on three sides. The introverted nature of this outdoor situation imparts calm and contemplation. From
the main level, it can only be viewed but is not accessible.
Sustainable Energy Concept
Among other things, the controlled natural ventilation including the exhibition areas, which was realised with façade dampers (natural fume and heat exhaust system) and optimised crossventilation via the courtyard, contributes to sustainability in terms of the construction and operation of the new building. This system is controlled by temperature, flow and CO2 sensors positioned over the space. Mechanised ventilation and air conditioning were purposely limited to the event hall.
The lighting concept for the exhibition area also follows the principle of limited energy use. Lamps and spotlights controlled via light sensors supplement the principal use of daylight. Air conditioning was not installed for the rooms in the basement. Here the building's thermal mass is activated in the summer months via controlled night cooling. The heat and cooling supply to the building is realised in an energy-efficient manner via an indirect remote heat connection.
Architect / Landscape Architect / Exhibition design
Heinle, Wischer und Partner
Responsible partner: Ursula Wilms, Architect, Association of German Architects (BDA)
Work group with Prof. Heinz W. Hallmann, Landscape Architect, Association of German Landscape Architects (BDLA)