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Embassy of the Netherlands , Berlin

Structural engineering for a geometrically complex building resembling a "house of cards"

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands opened the new Dutch Embassy in Berlin in March 2004, it marked the end of the five year construction period of a building known locally as the ‘House of Cards’.

Arup structural engineers designed intersecting load-bearing elements for load transfer and stiffening, resulting in an extremely complex structural system that resembles stacked playing cards.

The labyrinth of intersecting walls has been used creatively to reinforce the building further. The framework is made of steel and reinforced concrete. Given the complexity, the building represents an outstanding architectural and structural challenge.

The interior layout of this eight-storey building, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas of OMA, is designed to follow a 'meandering path'. Koolhaas recognised that diplomats in the old Embassy had often used the hallways as informal meeting places, and designed the building with a huge hallway as its centre.

An irregular floor plan, coupled with reinforced concrete wall elements of varying thicknesses, ensures the individual embassy departments remain distinct from each other despite the impression of vertical transparency.

This dual vision of clever, complex design and traditional Dutch transparency was enough to secure Koolhaas’s design the Architekturpreis Berlin in 2003 and the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in 2005.