The dedication of the Congress Hall, 19 September 1957

Speech by Hugh A. Stubbins

Fifteen moths ago the site on which we are gathered was a mass of rubble and ruin.

Today on this same site we are now engaged in dedicating the Congress Hall.

To me, as the architect of the building, it is a great moment. It is a great moment, not only from a sense of achievement, but also from a sense of participation in an undertaking that exemplifies the unity of purpose which is possible between two nations.

I am not here today to tell you about this building. I have been too intimately involved in its creation to see it as you see it or as others will see it as time goes on. But I must tell you what is uppermost in my mind as I stand here this moment.

1955, Early sketch by Hugh A. Stubbins, © Hugh Stubbins and Associates

This hall is dedicated to one of the great freedoms – the freedom of expression. Its form was inspired by an attempt to express that great purpose. In this sense, the form is a symbol. I believe it is a good symbol, - whether it actually is or not is for others – and for the future – to say.

No building, not even the simplest, is the result of one man’s effort. It was the combined ideas, discussions, analysis, sweat and toil of many people that contributed to the completion of this Hall, and I am profoundly happy to have been part of that combination.

An important member of this group was Mrs. Eleanor Dulles of our own Department of State who had the vision and ability to initiate the idea of American participation in the Berlin Exposition for Building Techniques.

Without her knowledge in the development, sponsorship and evaluation of international projects, the whole thing could have easily died in the initial stages of consideration.

The existence of this Congress Hall is the result of the power of cooperative effort between two free societies. The Benjamin Franklin Stiftung is composed of an equal number of German and American members. Under the exceptional chairmanship of Ralph Walker, it was charged with the responsibility of delivering a building mutually acceptable to the United States, the German Federal Republic and the City of Berlin – no small order.

This group met every decision necessary for the swift advancement of the work with firm and positive action, thus contributing immeasurably to the successful completion of the job.

As an architect, I can tell you that there is a feeling engendered right from the inception of a project which infallibly sets the pace and spirit of the whole undertaking. I am grateful to say that the Congress Hall set a wonderful pace ! which – although almost killing at times – has endured throughout every phase of its development.

1956, Sketch by Hugh A. Stubbins, © Hugh Stubbins and Associates

This sustained pace accompanied by good will and harmony was in large measure due to the dedicated people concerned with the job. I would like to mention briefly some of those people:

My colleagues, John Myer and Dick Homer, here in spirit and Jack Gensemer, here in fact, worked with me and our able engineers – Severd, Elstad and Kreuger. Together – in my office in Cambridge – we burned much midnight oil in the initial stages of the design searching for an idea worthy of our assignment.

This building is not a simple one and although the design was conceived and developed in one country and executed in another, with all the accompanying problems of different languages, techniques, measurements and materials, it has been completed in record time.

From helpful members of the United States Mission in Berlin as well as from numerous Berlin officials unexpected and valuable assistance was given: Mr. Minister Guffler, Mr. Brandin, the late Lord Mayer [Otto] Suhr, Senator Schwedler, Dr. Hertz, Herr Busack, to mention just a few, were all extremely encouraging in the initial and continuing stages of negotiation and planning.

For the contractors, Phillip Holzmann, Grün and Bilfiger, Wayss and Freytag and their workmen and subcontractors who put the structure together, I have only profound admiration. They have performed brilliantly in the finest German tradition of technology and craftsmanship.

I have mentioned a number of names to you and know all too well that I have omitted many that could have been cited. This is not an over sight - time does not permit to enumerate me further – except for two – and to those two I wish to pay special tribute. They are my Berlin Associates, Werner Düttmann and Frank Mocken.

Without their enthusiasm, sympathetic appreciation and technical skill this project would not have reached its conclusion.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have contributed their untiring and ceaseless effort in executing this project.

I hope I have conveyed to you something of my deep feeling of the importance of people concerned with the building of the Congress Hall. Every construction project is an experience in human relationships. In these past months these relationships have been ones which I shall always remember and treasure. They have been happy relationships, ones that have left an impression on me and ones that have continuously remained me of the importance of mutual understanding.

As you can guess, this undertaking has been more to me than just designing a building – it has been a privileged experience and an earnest endeavour to contribute something to the City of Berlin that will always be a reminder to those who see and use this Hall that earnest and outspoken discussion and the exchange of ideas is vital to our way of life.

Sept, 16 - 30, 1957, Hugh A. Stubbins' Building Pass

As I turn this building over to Mr. Walker – I am sure that you will understand that its physical completion will never terminate my interest in it.

I say this not with any pride of authorship, but from a deep felt desire to know always that it will be used freely and frequently for the purposes for which it was planned.

Mr Walker I wish to give you this key -- symbolic of conveying the completed Congress Hall to the Benjamin Franklin Stiftung.

I do it with mixed emotions, both happy and sad. Happy that we have done a job which I believe meets with your expectations and sad that our active interest in its problems and development now becomes passive.

I wish it God speed and know that in the future life of Berlin it will fulfil its appointed purpose and useful role and that it will become recognized as a real and honest gesture to promote good will among men of good faith.

Mr. Walker --- the key.

Speech for Congress Hall Dedication by: Hugh A. Stubbins, A. I. A., Architect