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    • 22 June 2021

      Embedding Democracy Underground

      Additional space was needed for the Parliament in Stuttgart, but the building’s protected status meant an extension was out of the question. The only option: going underground.

    • From the street, the Citizen and Media Centre is hardly visible at all. Instead, it reveals itself slowly; first just a flattened oblong in the grass, then a crescent of glass and concrete, and finally an amphitheater that frames the extension and doubles as a forum. Space calls to mind images of ancient Greek democracy, and not by coincidence. The assembly-like space solves a tricky architectural problem – how to create an entry to an underground space that is both striking and discreet – but also makes good on a political commitment of open discussion.

      Completed in 1957 and located within Stuttgart’s thrumming commercial center, the parliament building encapsulates the city’s rebirth, a deft balance of modesty and modernity. It is the hub for government activity, but also welcomes a broad variety of public functions, from school visits to conferences to charity dinners. The intense connection the building has with its community seems almost strange until one realizes that it was the first purpose-built parliament building built in Europe after the war. It is a building, but it is also a symbol.

      By 2017, the historic building had reached a critical capacity. An uptick in visitors was overloading the existing facility, disrupting the work of government officials and causing unnecessary stress and delays. The Citizen and Media Centre itself slips neatly beneath the parliament, housing the amenities needed to relieve the formal parliament above. It is a space welcome to all – politicians, students, visitors, and citizens.

      Hidden in reality, the significance of the amphitheater becomes obvious in drawings. The stepped semicircle outside completes that of the parliament inside, mirroring and abstracting the design for a different audience. It connects past to present to future and allows all citizens to participate in it.