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The Beautiful Metaphors of the Reichstag Dome

November 20, 2015

I was watching the always affable Rick Steves doing a show on Berlin, Germany and he introduced the beautiful metaphors of the modern Reichstag Dome. Completed in 1999 and designed by Foster and Partners of London, it sits atop the historic Reichstag building where the modern German parliament — the Bundestag — meets. The new dome replaced the heavy, opaque structure destroyed by fire in 1933 in the midst of a much darker period of German history. The soaring new dome, almost literally rising from the ruins, embodies three visual metaphors which I find particularly striking:

The choice of glass as the primary exterior construction material for the new dome is the first, powerful metaphor. Rather than attempt to rebuild the original ornate edifice, the new glass dome appears almost gossamer-like and weightless. It also appears to have little in the way of supporting structure other than two continuous ramps resembling a DNA-like double helix within the dome itself. The transparency of the glass, almost inviting those outside to come in, is a visual metaphor for the transparency of government to which all governments should aspire.

The second metaphor is the cone of mirrors at the centre of the dome which gathers natural light and directs it downwards into the chamber where legislators meet. This reflected light illuminates their discussion in a literal sense, but also conveys the notion that by shining the clear light of day on the activities of government, there would be fewer places to hide the corrosive influence of bad policy. It has the secondary effect of reflecting those on the sloping ramps inside the dome, blending their images with the light as it is funnelled down into the legislative chamber.

The third metaphor is that both the public viewing gallery and the ascending ramps sit high above the legislative chamber so that the people are literally above their government and, as Steves eloquently says in his video, the German people are "looking down...literally over the shoulders of their legislators...determined to keep a wary eye on their government." If legislators ever lose track of those for whom they are working, they simply look up. They're right there.

Transparent government, illuminated by the sanitizing effect of daylight and in its rightful place as servant of the people. It's a compelling vision. The architectural metaphors of the Reichstag Dome help reinforce these core ideas and serve as a constant reminder as to what all electoral governments should continually strive to achieve.

The metaphors expressed in the Dome and described by Steves really resonated with me, given that transparency, accountability and the clear notion of government-as-servant-of-the-people were themes very much present when the initial concepts which were eventually to become VoxVolo took shape. It is just that it was surprising and somewhat humbling to see them so beautifully, and eloquently expressed in such a subtle, simple way.

Thanks, Rick, you did more than just make me want to "keep on travelling."

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Do you want to look over the shoulder of your elected representatives to make sure they are working with transparency, integrity and accountability? Check out VoxVolo.

Illustration Credit: One More of the Reichstag Dome by Fulvio Spada used, with thanks, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.


About The Author


Terence C. Gannon is Founder and President of VoxVolo.  Born in Montreal, raised in Vancouver and a resident of Calgary for the last 28 years, Mr. Gannon is a self-described political junkie.  For the past 36 years, he has been an information technology professional, the last 27 of those in the Calgary oil & gas industry.  Finally realizing he wasn't getting any younger, Mr. Gannon decided it was time to indulge his passion for better government, of which VoxVolo is the result.


About VoxVolo

VoxVolo is about making elected governments work better. Unlike others, we do not think democracy is profoundly broken. It simply has not scaled up well for the number of voters it now serves and in how it addresses the complex issues of the modern world.