View of main entrance from the north-east, according to architectural mock-ups (all images courtesy Herzog + de Meuron)

Architecture critics and environmentalists have denounced the design of the forthcoming Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin, culminating in a call to halt construction completely until energy efficiency and material concerns have been resolved. According to a report in the Guardian, the main concerns voiced are that the museum will be made mostly out of concrete and that its reportedly inefficient interior design will require an energy-sucking ventilation system.

Designed by Swiss celebrity architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the museum’s interior has open airflow to the surrounding environment, inviting exorbitant costs year-round for temperature and humidity control.

Dr. Stefan Simon, who called the museum’s design a “climate-killer” and “structural nightmare” in the Guardian’s report, has advocated for a moratorium on the construction of new museums as they “belong to the biggest energy consumers in the urban context when you compare consumption per area.”

“This new project is, according to its original plans, the most climate-hostile building in the  history of the National Museums in Berlin,” Simon told Hyperallergic. “Running it will use way more energy than what is compatible with climate neutral buildings (all new buildings in Europe should be climate neutral by 2030.)”

Herzog and de Meuron have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Architectural plans illustrating the interior exhibition spaces of the Museum of the 20th Century

“Ecologically speaking the whole thing is an absolute disaster beyond all expectations, largely due to the fact that it is completely air permeable … leading to very large streams of air, which have to be either cooled or warmed, depending on whether it’s summer or winter,” architecture critic Nikolaus Bernau told the Deutschlandfunk Kultur radio station, as quoted in the Guardian.

In 2019, Herzog and de Meuron began construction on the museum, an extension of the Neue Nationalgalerie, with an original cost projection for the building of €179M (currently about $185M). That number has already more than doubled to €450M (~$465M) as the architects explained they must dig deeper into Berlin’s marshy grounds for extended building volume because the museum was beginning to encroach on the church next door.

The 9,000-square-foot museum design, incorporating a practically flat pitched roof above rows and rows of brickwork, utilizes concrete as its main building material. Concrete is widely decried for its gargantuan levels of carbon dioxide emissions, prompting major criticism toward its use in contemporary architecture, and its associated tools are also rather expensive.

View of the Museum’s south and west façades, per the architectural designs

“Even if planned by platinum LEED standard, it would take decades to come to equal terms with an already existing building in its carbon balance,” Simon pointed out, referencing the use of concrete in accordance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an international green building certification program.

German Cultural Minister Claudia Roth also denounced the project’s excessive expenses and the oversight in its energy efficiency status. “It cannot be the case that we build new museums without giving sustainability criteria a leading role,” Roth said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

The Bundestag (German Parliament) has issued an additional €10M (~$10.3M) to the museum in an effort to address the ecological issues drawing in such criticisms. It remains to be seen how Herzog and de Meuron intend to revamp the design for improved sustainability.

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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