Planned and nearly completed during the National Socialist era, the construction of the Berlin-Tempelhof Airport was meant to be consistent with its role as a “world airport”, but also to serve as a propagandistic expression of the Nazi regime's self-image.
The airport buildings constructed on Tempelhof Field in various stages between 1923 and 1929 had by the early 1930s reached the limits of their capacity and technical possibilities, due to the rapidly growing volumes of passenger traffic. The airport desperately needed an upgrade. After the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, plans began to be made, promoted by Adolf Hitler. In 1934, he arranged for the expansion of the airport, setting the course for its dual use as a civilian and military airfield. He had previously established the site's connection to the city's north-south axis, which had been an early part of his envisaged plans for the urban redesign of the capital.
The Reich Air Ministry, headed by Hermann Goering, took over the financing and acted as manager of the project. In 1935, Ernst Sagebiel was commissioned to design the new airport, after responsibility had previously been given to the Berlin Airport Company. Sagebiel, who had begun work with the Air Ministry in late 1933, advanced rapidly there by designing numerous buildings for the Luftwaffe, and came to particular prominence with the planning of the Reich Air Ministry building. Construction for Tempelhof Airport began in spring 1936. After initially quick progress – in 1937, the same year as the roofing ceremony, the first part of the building had already been occupied – the pressures of war brought construction work to a standstill. The planned opening in 1939 could no longer take place.
The airport grounds are formed by the ellipse of the airfield and an imposing complex of buildings arranged at its north-western edge. The entire complex is axially aligned with Karl Friedrich Schinkel's 1821 Kreuzberg Monument, which during the Nazi era served as a gathering point for folkish midsummer solstice celebrations. Originally, an architectural link between the airport and the monument was planned, in the form of a cascade of water tumbling down the side of the Kreuzberg hill. Flanked by two obelisks, the waterfall was to have ended in the square in front of the airport terminal, where a magnificent fountain was envisaged. The intention to establish a direct connection to the planned north-south axis was abandoned in the planning phase, however.
The building complex consists of several staggered structures: The plaza, originally planned as a circle, is surrounded by four-story wings, which were to house the administrations of Deutsche Lufthansa and the Berlin Airport Company, as well as sections of the Reich Aviation Ministry. The buildings surround a 90-meter-long front courtyard, which leads to the monumental lobby building. This structure in turn leads to the 18-meter-high, longitudinally oriented terminal building.
The buildings are completed by the 1,230 meter arc of the hangers and terminals, punctuated by stair towers like fortifications. The complex's remarkable curved shape owed a debt to earlier designs, including competition proposals for earlier Tempelhof buildings and for the Munich-Oberwiesenfeld airport in the 1920s, as well as the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel Airport lobby building built between 1926 and 1928, designed by Friedrich Dyrssen and Peter Averhoff.