The House of World Cultures is located in a building of great architectural and historical interest. The structure evolved as the United States contribution to the International Building Exhibition (INTERBAU) in 1957, which resulted in designs by many prominent architects being executed here in the Tiergarten.
In 1955, Hugh Stubbins started work on a design for a building that would soon become a remarkable landmark in the cityscape of post-war Berlin. Stubbins, who had been Gropiuss assistant at Harvard before the Second World War, was familiar with Germany. Wanting to make a statement on that conflict between the systems commonly referred to the Cold War, Stubbins planned a building with a hall to hold cultural events and congresses. It was intended to serve as a symbol and beacon of freedom with its message reaching the East too. The former Zeltenplatz square was chosen as the site. To ensure its contours would be clearly seen from Communist-ruled East Berlin, the Congress Hall was erected on an artificial mound.
Stubbins described the symbolic value of his architectural design as completely free. The form of the curved roof bore a striking resemblance to that of wings. In Stubbinss view, the roof upheld the promise that there would be no restrictions on the freedom of intellectual work - a political vision shared by the Benjamin Franklin Foundation, which commissioned the building.
Construction took only one year. On 19 September 1957, after the building had been completed, the US government gave the Congress Hall to the City of Berlin as a present. The artistic programme of the opening ceremony reflected the Congress Halls future programme: combining theatre, symposia and concerts, it brought together prominent artists, scientists and politicians engaged in an international dialogue between the New and Old Worlds.