Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Cupola Story

A cupola is a "cherry" placed upon a house, barn or structure....which traditionally adds character.

It also can bring more sunlight or air into a house.  Needless to say....it's an extra and adds cost onto the make-up of a structure.

Around 1443....some German engineers and construction folks got dragged into a project....to build the city palace (Stadtschloss for the locals).  It was a pretty grand design, and hefty on cost.

It took around eight years to finish.  Most folks considered it a big feature of central Berlin....at least until the end of World War II.  At that point, it was heavily damaged.  Sadly, it fell into the DDR or Soviet side of Berlin.  That kinda meant slow restoration or repairs.  At some point in the 1950s....the East German government made the decision to drop restoration, and just topple the remains of the building to the ground.

Upon this site....was built the Palace of the Republic.  What folks will generally say....it had no character, no charm, and no appeal.  After the wall went down....no one used the old building.  Some folks came in....discovered massive use of asbestos, and spent a fair amount of time and money to remove the hazardous stuff.  After that project was done....no one really wanted to use the DDR Palace of the Republic.....so it was torn down in 2008.  It became an empty lot.

I should note here....for the sake of argument....after the Kaiser was dumped in 1919....the city palace was deemed worthless, and turned into a city museum of sorts.  It's value was heavily in question.

Months passed since the wall fell, and folks have lots of state capital to spend on projects.....there's this idea that came up to rebuild the entire palace....as it looked in 1451 when first done.

Around seven years ago, as the first round of discussion were carried out....the cost was figured at roughly 550 million Euro ($750 million dollars).  A fair sum, but it was deemed as valuable to the public (don't ask).

The Bundestag got peppy over the idea and was ready in that timeframe to allocate close to 600 million Euro.  A building without a purpose?  Well....if you build it....they will come (an American quote, not a German one).

There's a fair discussion that came up among planners, engineers, and logical thinking folks in Berlin.....was the cost estimate legit?  Well....somewhere in this discussion....folks found that no one really sat down and thought of this stupid cupola requirement.  Back in the 1450 era.....you could have dragged seven builders into a room, and they all knew the art and time involved.  It's a fair bet that they would have given you a good estimate....within ten percent, and all seven would have been near to each other's guess on cost.

Today?  No one much builds cupolas.

This kinda drags up an odd question.....if you suddenly tossed in a cupola.....a really fancy one.....would the price suddenly grow by twenty percent....thirty percent....maybe forty percent?  No one seems to know.

Last summer, some dignitaries met and did the foundation stone....sipped some champagne.....and cheered on the crowds with peppy speeches.  The government is settled with the 590 million Euro tab presently.  The end point?  Well....on the books, they actually wrote down 2019.

The curious points?  No one is completely sure about the masonry talents required, and there's some discussion about using Chinese stonemasons (the guys who did the Doctor King Memorial in DC).....but that got some Germans upset....why can't they use plain old German stonemasons.

The cupola topic?  So far, no one has brought it up.  Maybe there's confidence in what can be done.  The guys in charge say that they have the original plans from the 1450-era and if they were good enough then....they ought to work fine today.

The last part of this story?  Well....after this is all done....while the cost may reach close to a billion Euro (you just don't know)....the present intended purpose?  It's an art display structure....for African and non-German art.  Yeah, kinda of odd to spend a billion on such a display structure, but Germany has lots of loot and cash to throw at projects like this.

The odds of building failures, cost over-runs and dismal setbacks?  A hundred percent.  The possibility of no one in central control of the overall project....like the Berlin Airport?  I'd take a personal guess at close to a hundred percent.

So you kinda sit there and admire the cupola thing.  Might be nice on a barn or house.  Maybe it does add character and charm.  Is it worth seventy million to a hundred million Euro?  I hate to be harsh on Germans....but if you were looking for a failure in the making.....this is number forty-eight (and counting).

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