Czech Embassy in Berlin
A brutalist gem of Berlin, the Czechoslovak embassy at the Otto-Grotewohl Straße, realized between Between 1974 and 1978.
"Most people think of this embassy as a cold hearted UFO from an outdated communist era, or in short: a heap of concrete. For me though, it is mostly an artpiece of (semi-)vanguard architecture from the 1970s.
The embassy only has a history of 35 years, when it opened as the Czechoslovak embassy at the Otto-Grotewohl Straße. Already in 1948, the Czechoslovakians had a representitive in the Soviet sector. When the GDR was proclaimed in October 1949, the Czechoslovakian authorities acceded their comrade-state only eleven days later. By 1953, the original representitive mission officialy turned into diplomatic relation. It remains unclear, but I’ve got the impression that the Czechoslovakians were not given an embassy for themselves. So, in despite of being befriended nations – this situation don’t come too amicably to me. In 1973 though – the Czechoslovakian Republic improved their relations with Western Germany. I am not sure whether the improved status with GDR’s rival contributed to it, but shortly after – the Czechoslovakian comrades were given a parcel in the ministerial quarter in East Berlin."
Between 1974 and 1978, the brutalist design by Vladimír Machonin and his wife Věra Machoninová was realised. By fact, the design was already finished when they got the assignment. It was already intended to be the embassy of Kenya, where it somehow wasn’t realised. Not only the construction, but also its interior was designed by the architect couple. The characteristicly round pillars at the ground level have actually two functions. They make the embassy look like it hovers over the ground, while it also hides the entrance from the public eye. Inside, the main colours yellow, orange and red reveal that the embassy is from the 1970s indeed. At the first and the second floor, the cinephile civil servants even had a cinema in their embassy! Its interior was decorated in a fitting way: blue seats, wooden orange walls and a blue velours curtain. The rest of the embassy though, was filled with office space for -at its peak- 250 employees.
When the embassy opened in 1978, the architects were not rewarded for their efforts. This had nothing to do with a negative receival by fellow architects, on the contrary: the success should stay a secret. After the liberal movement of the Prague Spring in 1968 was knocked down that same autumn, many reformers -among them the Machonin couple- were excluded from their professions. That means, officially: in reality, it was held a secret that the dissident architect couple were the masterminds behind the brutalist embassy, up till the communist regime fell in 1990-
With this visual story, I wanted to focus on this underappreciated brutalist piece of architecture and highlight the unique form and materials used. Additionally I wanted to focus on the way its materials reflect light during the day depending on the natural light.
What appears as typical grey brutalist concrete, transforms into a shiny golden surface under direct evening light and the neutral windows reflect the sky in a dark cyan hue.