Critics Raise Alarm Over Forthcoming Berlin Modern Art Museum’s Environmental Costs

Cultural experts have raised alarms over the environmental costs of a long-running construction project to erect a major modern art museum in Berlin.

The Museum of the 20th Century, designed by the Swiss star architects Herzog and de Meuron, has been in the works since 2019. Critics working in fields across architecture and conservation have criticized the project’s design efficiency and delays as the climate crisis has increased scrutiny over large-scale building projects in urban hubs.

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Calls for construction of the project to be halted over design issues that critics see as an environmental threat have circulated in the last month, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Detractors of the project have criticized various aspects of the construction plan, ranging from its materials to its internal structure for being unsustainable. Critics have pointed to the use of concrete — a high carbon-emission building material — and a high-energy use ventilation system required to mitigate affects related to its transparent interior structure as being among the main concerns.

In a statement to The Guardian, conservation scientist Stefan Simon said the project would fail to meet the European Union’s climate neutrality goals. The concerns follow the United Nations recent climate summit this month that included calls for large global economies to further cut carbon emissions and escalating climate-related protests staged at museums in Europe by the activist group Just Stop Oil.

The building project, an extension of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, officially began in 2019 when German officials unveiled plans to build an exhibition space that would hold a large collection of art produced by European artists in the 20th century, including works by Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Now estimated to cost €450 million ($500 million), a figure that is double its original €179 million ($155 million) price tag, the museum has been billed as a future milestone for the capital’s cultural sector, promising to serve as a major historical touchpoint focused on the modern era that the city has previously lacked. The opening of the new museum was originally planned for 2021.

The German government has allocated an additional €10 million ($10.3 million) from its annual budget to address the energy deficiencies in the construction’s plan in response to the mounting criticism. The country’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, has called for the museum’s design to be revised. Roth, who took office in January, pledged to put an official focus on sustainability issues for arts venues.


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