German Architects to Build Gadhafi's New Headquarters

A Berlin-based group of architects has been awarded a contract to design the new headquarters for the Libyan government in Tripoli. They see the project as a chance to work on a "new Libya." Jane Paulick reports

Tripoli will be getting a face-lift (graphic: Leon Wohlhage Wernik)
Tripoli will be getting a face-lift

​​"This is a coup," said Siegfried Wernik from the firm Leon Wohlhage Wernik, whose resume includes the Indian Embassy in Berlin, Bremen's representation in the capital and the SchwabenGalerie mall in Stuttgart. "The opportunity to design such an extraordinary project is a privilege and a challenge."

The winning team's design outstripped some prestigious competition, chosen over others submitted by acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, Japan's Kisho Kurokawa and German architects Gerkan Marg und Partner.

According to the Berliners' plans, the new government buildings will extend across 230 hectares (568 acres) – an area as large as some 350 soccer pitches. The project will be partially completed by 2009 to mark the 40th anniversary of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi taking power, but will most probably only be fully completed in 2017.

The cost will be between 2.5 billion and three billion euros ($3.4 billion and 4.1 billion).

Following in the footsteps of Niemeyer

Moammar Gadhafi (photo: AP)
From Saul to Paul? Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's head of state since 1969

​​ A model of the design posted on the company's website shows flat-roofed ministries lining a large rectangular park dotted with palm trees.
The complex has already been compared by the German press to the futuristic, utopian architectural style famously employed in the Brazilian capital Brasilia in the 1950s by architect Oscar Niemeyer.

It will be situated between Tripoli's international airport and the capital's historical center and will also include a mosque, a towering five-star hotel and a conference center.

New headquarters, new Libya

The firm said it tried to combine tradition and modernity in the design to show that "after years of isolation and conflict with the West, Libya now stands at a crossroads between the past and the future."

Long considered a pariah state, Libya changed track in 2004 when it renounced the support of state-sponsored terror and its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

A close-up of one of the planned government buildings (photo: Leon Wohlhage Wernik)
A high-tech government palace in the desert: Ghadafi is prepared to spend big

​​Wernik told the daily Berliner Zeitung that Leon Wohlhage Wernik sought advice from two experts on Islam, who filled them in on current political developments in the country many in Germany still associate first and foremost with terrorist attacks on a Berlin discotheque in 1986.

"We have done out homework on Libya," he said. "People think of it as a dictatorship, but the country wants to be taken back into the international fold.

"Our impression is that the new government seat represents a new Libya," he added. "For us, that was reason enough to get involved."

German architecture in international demand

The success of the Berlin team reflects the broad international popularity of German architects, who are increasingly highly sought after the world over. From China to Russia and various Arab states, Germans have a reputation as skilled all-rounders, able to oversee projects from design to follow-through.

​​Berlin-based architects have a particular advantage. In the years since German reunification, the city has been completely revamped and serves as an international calling card for local architectural offices.

"Berlin's architecture is great publicity," said Klaus Meier-Hartmann, president of the Berlin Architects' chamber, in the Berliner Zeitung.

Jane Paulick

© Deutsche Welle 2008

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