A monument to Germany’s environmental enlightenment

Walking into The Reichstag in central Berlin, it’s hard to imagine the building was once the powerful headquarters for the world’s most evil leader.

The building is now very much a symbol of Germany’s reinvention as an environmentally enlightened world capital on a mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Already a model of green engineering ingenuity, the Reichstag was completely switched over to renewable sources like water, wind and solar energy last summer making it the greenest parliament in the world.

Before the switch, biofuel generators in the basement already produced 40 per cent of the building’s energy.

But it’s the sheer inventiveness of the design that makes the building particularly noteworthy and awe-inspiring.

Renowned architect Norman Foster completed his renovation in 1999 after utterly gutting the building, originally opened in 1894 as home of the first parliament of the German Empire.

The marquee piece of the renovation: a glass dome with a massive, mirrored cone that draws natural light into the building while acting as a natural chimney to draw out warm air. The dome sits directly about the plenary chamber, showering government decisions below with light.

(Photo credit: Daniel Reid)

The marquee piece of the renovation: a glass dome with a massive, mirrored cone that draws natural light into the building while acting as a natural chimney to draw out warm air.

Overhead is a sunscreen that electronically tracks the sun and prevents it from overwhelming or disturbing people below.

What’s most impressive about the Reichstag is its completely functional design. Only the exterior facades of the original building were preserved, leaving Foster lots of room for creativity.

At the top of a spiralling ramp that leads through the dome is a giant rain bucket. The top of the building is completely exposed to the elements, allowing rain to collect in a rooftop funnel that feeds to the rest of the building.

The top of the building is completely exposed to the elements, allowing rain to collect in a rooftop funnel that feeds to the rest of the building.

When it comes to heating and cooling, the Reichstag again leads the way. Using natural aquifers below ground, the building pumps out heat during the summer through groundwater loops into a warm water well. Precisely the opposite transaction happens in the winter: the building draws on the warm well to heat the building and stores some of the cold to be used for warm months.

The result of all the upgrades is a dramatic 94 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

Most importantly, the building is leading the way for other governments in the world.







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