The International Congress Centre Berlin (ICC) has been at a standstill since April 9th 2014. A sleeping giant, from a time when the future looked promising. A singular, colossal resource of public space that urgently needs to be brought back to life – both for the urban community and as a pilot project for all of Europe.
Since 2014, our initiative ICCC – International Centre for Contemporary Culture has been campaigning for a sustainable cultural repurposing of the ICC: as a cultural centre of the twenty-first century, where culture and technology, art and digitaly, research and the public can come together. Thanks to the building’s flexible infrastructure, both small-scale and large-scale usage can coexist in harmony – and mutually benefit from one another.
The ICCC – International Centre for Contemporary Culture is envisioned as a flagship project for Berlin and Europe: an inclusive space of gathering and lively exchange. A place for contemporary culture and a future lab for democratic participation in digital innovation. A prototype for a truly sustainable approach to existing buildings. In line with the New European Bauhaus initiative, the ICCC stands for:
1. Adaptive reuse through cultural use
Versatile utility – from congress centre to mini studio, server farm to marketplace – is needed to ensure a sustainable future for this megastructure. Rather than rebuilding, the enormous potential of the existing space will be used sensibly and efficiently. Reimagining the existing structure.
2. A future-oriented adaptation of the legacy of late-modern building technology
A high-tech icon goes low-tech: the grey energy generated by the ICC megastructure will be reused, and the building facilities robustly adapted. Intelligent heat recovery from a server farm would transform the ICCC into the neighbourhood’s power plant. The ICCC is the embodiment of green building.
3. Data as a common good
The question of how to store and use data will move into the spotlight with the ICCC's server farm - in the sense of Niklas Maak's "Server Manifest". Individuals from the fields of IT, art, design, politics, research, business and urban society will come together to develop and present prototype solutions for democratically managed digital infrastructures. After all, a key to the future of democracy lies in Data Commons. Server farms are the megastructures of the 21st century; they must be brought into cities and into the centre of society.
The ICCC becomes an open space for the Berlin art and culture scene in the broadest possible sense. A highly flexible structure that can cater to performative formats and studios, exhibitions and research, nightlife and debate – 24/7. With the possibility of integrating a new kind of server farm to act as a digital hub, viewed as an integral component of the new digital culture. Its use as a congress centre remains an essential element of the overall concept.
Fixed and flexible: In addition to the long-term ‘core tenants’, both large and small, such as cultural institutions, archives, studios and the server farm, which define and strengthen the ICCC’s thematic profile, some rooms and venues will be kept available for temporary events. Part of the ICCC’s infrastructure includes in-house services that can be booked at any time, including a rental service for tools, furniture, media and event technology, catering, workshops, etc.
A cyclical use of space: Unlike the ICC, which in the past was often either empty or only temporarily at full capacity, the ICCC strives for a dynamic occupancy system with real-time, digital space allocation: optimized, large-scale occupancy, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This will avoid usage peaks and troughs, which are both cost- and energy-intensive.
Locally connected: As a cultural centre, the ICCC is designed to facilitate participation and thus highlight Berlin’s appeal in the fields of culture and innovation. Local actors, cultural institutions and citizens should all be included in the development and operation of the ICCC. The ICCC could be programmatically linked to its immediate surroundings with the Messe (trade fair) and RBB, City West, TU and UdK Campus, as well as the future Tegel location.
The era of building is over. Now we make use of what is already there. The ICC is predestined for this: with its broad range of rooms and spaces, it is perfectly equipped to accommodate a variety of functions that complement each other seamlessly in terms of their needs and potential.
Rather than extensive reconfiguration, the ICC’s versatile rooms retain their unique characteristics (in terms of size, accessibility, natural light/lighting, closed/openness, furnishings, etc.). Spaces will be matched to their appropriate uses. In this way, the ICCC will remain as flexible and open to transformation in the future as its contents and stakeholders.
As little as possible, as much as necessary
As well as reuse, subtractive construction, rearranging and updating building elements, and selective additions to the existing building are permitted within the historic preservation order. The circularity of building materials is of top priority.
The technical building equipment must also be fundamentally reconceived in keeping with the 1.5°C target from the Paris Agreement. The grey energy in the existing facilities should be taken into account throughout the planning process. Usage and occupancy rates should be adapted to the technical building equipment (TGA) and not the other way around. The exhaust heat, particularly from the server farm, can be actively reused to heat public swimming pools or surrounding residential areas or cool them via heat pumps.
Communal design & governance
A project of this size and stature cannot and should not be developed and operated by one single entity. To ensure its lasting success, the ICCC should be developed and operated by a group of experts and designers in close collaboration with future occupants, who can provide the necessary guidance and support throughout its operation.
Findings from the “Competitive Dialogue” regarding the Stadteingang West urban development area (2023) should be incorporated into subsequent planning for the redevelopment of the ICC.
With the aim of integrating the ICCC into the city’s fabric for the long term, a holistic placemaking process should be set up, which includes architecture and urban planning, communities and stakeholders, business and administration, developing and operating the ICCC, and a comprehensive communication and audience development strategy.
2014: The end of congress operation and temporary closure of the ICC
2014: Together with an international investor, we developed an economically viable usage concept for the International Congress Centre Berlin (ICC) as part of the State of Berlin’s call for proposals to develop a usage, renovation and financing concept for the ICC: the ICCC – a synergy of conference and congress facilities, performing and visual arts, digital media, exhibition storage, workshops, studios and meeting rooms. Preserving the building’s architecture as a total work of art at all costs was the foundation of our concept.
2019: The ICC is listed as a protected historic landmark – further validating our approach of maximum preservation and adaptive reuse.
2021: For the Berliner Festspiele’s The Sun Machine Is Coming Down, the ICC was brought back to life for ten days: thousands of Berliners attended exhibitions, installations, performances, films, concerts, lectures and guided tours. During these ten days, the building proved itself as an open space for theurban community and illustrated how well the ICC can function even without intervention in the building structure, provided that its existing spatial potential is used sensibly.
2022: Our ICCC proposal is selected as a Highlighted Project at the New European Bauhaus Festival in Brussels. Since June 2022, we have been constantly updating and further developing the concept in exchange with Rem Koolhaas, Niklas Maak, Francesca Bria and Transsolar, and expanding the cultural use to include the “democratic” server farm.
The ICC is a catalyst for dialogue, a total work of art, an architectural statement and a promise for the future. An increasingly fast-changing society and accelerating technical progress require spaces that can react dynamically. The type of space that the ICC has been providing since 1979.
From its vast aluminium shell to the indoor signage system, door handles and coat hooks: this architectural icon should be preserved as completely and faithfully as possible. All interventions must be made in the spirit of the original architecture – with the same ingenuity and innovation.
Now, 40 years after its opening, the ICC remains a pinnacle of high-tech architectural futurism. The International Congress Centrum Berlin (ICC Berlin) is a futuristic machine, a spaceship with a dynamic function, shining silver in amid the infrastructure junction between the AVUS, the Ringbahn tracks, and city motorway. Designed by architects Ursulina Schüler-Witte and Ralf Schüler, construction began in 1975. On 2 April, 1979, the 313-metre-long, 89-metre-wide, 40-metre-high convention center opened its doors. It is unique to not only Berlin but the world. A more fitting harmony between the symphony of the big city and “high-tech” architecture is hard to imagine.
International und Berlin Relatives
Even in its current, somewhat unkempt state, 40 years after its opening, the ICC remains a pinnacle of “high-tech” architectural futurism. Comparable buildings can only be found internationally in the Centre Pompidou (Paris, 1977), the Lloyd’s building (London, 1986), Sears Tower (Illinois, 1973) or Hearst Tower (New York, 2004). In Berlin, it is likely to be grouped with the exceptional architecture of the Umlauftank 2 (Tiergarten) and the Berlin TV Tower.
The Fun Palace, an intellectual forerunner, was a project by architect Cedric Price and director Joan Littlewood (1961). It describes an entirely flexible, culturally populated structure whose interior would be consistently modified. Although the project was never realised, it significantly influenced the thinking and imagination of architects such as Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and Rem Koolhaas – and certainly Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte.
The ICC is a Gesamtkunstwerk
Within this group, the ICC Berlin occupies an exceptional position. Due in part to its mere dimensions but also its unique accessibility via nearby transportation and ingenious construction method. The venue is perhaps the world’s largest “house-within-a-house” construction, which ensures that the interior of the building is completely separated from the noise and vibrations of its surroundings. Finally, the aesthetics of the building make it truly outstanding. Associations with a machine, an airport or spaceship are evoked from both the ICC’s exterior and indoor details – from the doors to the signage system, handles and coat hooks.
Two large auditoriums on the upper floors: Hall 1 (5,008 seats) and Hall 2 (3,520 seats) are situated around a common central stage, adjustable in height so that both rooms can also be used together. The seating grandstand in Hall 2 can be folded in its entirety into the ceiling to create a “ballroom” with maximum flexibility. The foyer and access areas in the building are incredibly spacious, creating a pleasant area for strolling, on the one hand, but also resulting in approximately 10-15% of the total area being individually usable, “sellable” space. Out of approximately 200,000 sqm GFA, only 30,000 sqm can be used for conferences, according to the Messe Berlin. Costs: The building was nearly fully occupied in 2012, still hosting large conventions with up to 20,000 visitors and achieving that year the highest turnover in its history. There was however a considerable renovation backlog, especially in all technical facilities. Maintenance and operating costs in 2012: 23 million euros. Estimated renovation costs: 400 million euros (as of 2014).
Entering the ICC, one passes through the spacious ticket hall onto the boulevard designed to accommodate information counters, seating areas, showcases and cloakrooms, located on lower levels on either side of the space. The reception area covers 3,587 square metres. Serving as a central meeting point, the café/bar located in the central foyer is joined by a striking light sculpture by Frank Oehring, which runs through three floors. It symbolises the networked connection of all the building’s technical infrastructure. At the centre of the southern entrance of the building is the ICC Lounge, a self-contained space measuring 272 square metres.
From the reception foyer, the side staircases lead to the gallery level. There you will find 17 conference rooms with an average size of 35-45 sqm and space for 10 to 20 people. The rooms located in the east and west areas of the building can be easily combined or leased individually, almost all of them exposed to a great deal of daylight. Access to the second level, a foyer characterised by spacious seating areas, and rooms sectioned into central, east and west groupings, is granted by three escalators in the east and west sections, as well as the large main staircase. Here a total of 3,216 square metres of open space gives way to various utilities, including the exhibition and lounge usage seen thus far.
On this level, several rooms without daylight can also be found: the striking Hall 6 in the centre seats up to 200 people in a parliamentary atmosphere. In its immediate vicinity Halls 4/5 and 7, cover 260 square metres and offer space for 270 people (when seated in rows). Entrances to the third-largest hall in the building, Hall 3, are located in the northern part. The windowless hall with fixed seating boasts a capacity of 800 people. To the south of the central foyer, Hall 8 similarly has no access to daylight and a capacity of up to 130 seats over 130 square metres.
The “Pullmann Lounge” restaurant enjoys a nive view of Neue Kantstrasse. Directly adjacent are the lounges “Columbus”, “von Stephan”, “Lilienthal” and Zeppelin”, and just a short ways away on the same level the “Kock”, “Langenbeck”, “Sauerbruch” and “Virchow” lounge areas offer capacities between 20 to 70 people.
Combining Hall 1, the Stage and Hall 2 results in a total capacity of 9,100 seats. In Hall 2, the grandstand installation can be raised to the ceiling of the hall, transforming the auditorium into a 2,500-square-metre level for exhibitions, lavish events and festive occasions – the so-called “ballroom”. The double-sided stage, connecting Hall 1 and Hall 2, has a size of 770 sqm and is approximately 35 m wide. Hall 9 and Hall 10 are located above Hall 8 and have a size of 170 sqm. The roof garden foyer with 380 sqm offers space for up to 306 people (with row seating), and from here you can access the terrace with a panoramic view over Berlin.
The three-storey bridge structure forms the connection to the convention centre and the exhibition halls 14.2 and 15.2. It offers space for flexible utility on the foyer level (350 sqm), 10 conference rooms (30 sqm) and multipurpose rooms (110 sqm) on the salon level. On the hall level, 10 cloakrooms (with individual bathrooms), as well as technical and meeting rooms, lead off from a central boulevard.
The multi-storey car park located at the southern end of the building complex has direct access to the motorway and offers 650 parking spaces.
The ICC is probably the most perfect building I have ever seen.
– Rem Koolhaas, Office for Metropolitan Architecture
The ICC could become what the Musaeum was during the Antiquity– a grove of adventure where storytellers from afar, actors and artists invented a counterworld of potential life forms. This could also be home to a library, studios, performance stages, a permanent alternative to the typical art venue where people could come throughout the day to experience and to connect. “The ICC could be one of the most interesting spaces for art the country has to offer. Now all that is necessary are a few intelligent politicians and investors who not only see a broken concrete monster with aluminum skin, but a place for cultural experiments, celebrations, and experiences the city’s society desperately needs.
– Niklas Maak, FAZ, October 2021
The ICCC – a Centre Pompidou for the digital age. A physical place where people can understand and see what a digital society could do with the data it generates together, if it didn’t give it away to private corporations. A place of education, emancipation, community, self-determination and adventure, which transforms people from users into stakeholders.
– Niklas Maak, FAZ architecture critic, author of Das Servermanifest (2022)
The ICC has to arrive in the NOW and be perceived or rather appropriated. The ICCC will be declared a free zone. Before a curatorial choice of galleries, universities, White/Black Cubes, conferences, ateliers happens, potential agents should be invited and discover and define it together. As a result, an artistic advisory board that represents the content line of the institution would emerge.
– Carson Chan, architectural historian, curator and director of the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment, MoMA, New York.
Built in 1973–79 according to plans by architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte, the International Congress Centre (ICC) is one of West Berlin’s most significant post-war buildings. As an international congress venue, it represented the cosmopolitanism of the isolated city on the frontline of the West; at the same time, this gleaming silver metropolitan sculpture embodies a delightful unity of aesthetics and function. The ICC’s status as a listed historic monument acknowledges the exceptional nature of the building and is also testament to the great public interest in its preservation.
– Christoph Rauhut, state conservator and director of the Landesdenkmalamt Berlin
The ICCC future lab, a place for hackers, makers, fab labs, startups: Berlin is the home of the knowledge-driven economy. A catalyst for dialogue such as the ICCC is needed to act as a city within the city. Even more important than the main event halls are the generous infinite spaces in between, where ideas can be discussed, developed, disseminated. A hub for social innovation, a future lab, a marketplace of ideas: the building is brimming with optimism for a future in which Berlin is reinventing society.
– Holm Friebe and Phillipp Albers, authors, journalists, trend experts and founders of Zentrale Intelligenz Agentur, Berlin
The ICC is cheeky. It has an enormous gravitational pull. A spaceship in a unique location, between a well-preserved Gründerzeit neighbourhood with an idyllic park (Lietzensee), the city motorway, the Ringbahn (circular railway line), Grunewald freight station, Berlin Central Bus Station and the Messegelände (trade fair grounds). The ICCC would encourage renowned artists and creatives to open studios or workshops here, giving the building an identity and a name. One-year artist residencies like those at TATE Modern are example models of how the ICCC can maintain new artistic engagement and occupation year after year.
– Jan Edler and Tim Edler, architects, realities:united, Berlin
WHO WE ARE
Bureau N: Silke Neumann, Caroline Wolf, Malte Bündgen
Something Fantastic: Julian Schubert, Elena Schütz, Leonard Streich
2014 concept and coordination:
BUREAU N, Silke Neumann, Julia Albani
Consultants: Florian Heilmeyer, Something Fantastic (Elena Schütz, Leonard Streich, Julian Schubert), Maike Cruse, Zara Pfeifer, Caroline Wolf
Philipp Albers, Alain Arnaudet, Stephan Balzer, Christian Bräuer, Ralf Broeckmann, Carson Chan, Jan Edler, Tim Edler, Holm Friebe, Konstantin Grcic, Martin Heller, Andreas Krüger, Sophie Lovell, Niklas Maak, Johannes Odenthal, Fred Pawlitzki, Christian Posthofen, Christiane Riedel, Florian Schmidt, Ursulina Schüler-Witte
Editors: Julia Albani, Florian Heilmeyer
Assistant editor: Tamara Regosz
Artistic direction: Something Fantastic
We would like to thank the photographers Nuno Cera, Noshe, Zara Pfeifer and Elena Schütz for generously providing their images.
This report was prepared based on information independently researched and produced by the author. Previously unavailable materials announced as part of the investor competition (plans, studies, analyses, photos, etc.) could not be consulted. Future consequences and conclusions as well as inferences from this material, which has yet to be sifted through, may contradict and correct the premises and recommendations formulated in this report.
Subject to the German regulations § 5 TMG:
Silke Neumann, Naunynstraße 38, 10999 Berlin, Germany
Responsible for the content after § 55 Abs. 2 RStV: Silke Neumann