Much Ridicule but No Winners in Berlin’s Lackluster Plans for New Museum

Architects were given vague yet unrealistic guidelines.

Berlin's new modern and contemporary art museum is to be built behind the existing Neue Nationalgalerie Photo: Harald Kliems via Wikimedia Commons

The German press has ridiculed the shortlist of 10 designs for Berlin’s planned Museum of Modern Art, set to open in 2021, and accused the city’s government of creating absurd and unrealistic guidelines for the project.

Over 1000 architects from around the world requested the competition’s instructional guidelines in early 2015, and 460 submitted proposals. The 10 finalists were presented to the Jury in mid-February, and a winning design was to be selected at the end of the year. Now, it has surfaced that not a single proposal has made the cut.

But the architects are hardly to blame. According to the city’s guidelines, the proposed structure should “bind” the existing “urban landscape” to nearby architectural icons, including Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie (currently under renovation until at least 2019) and the Philharmonic’s Hans Scharoun-designed hall, to allow them to be “experienced better.”

In addition, the new building should reflect the 20th century’s “large fractures and extremes,” and show the “great openness, experimentation, and provocation” that have shaped the city since the 1960s. Furthermore, the building should reflect Germany’s “pluralistic and tolerant society,” and include display elements for “different media and genres.”

The earmarked location is located between the National Gallery (bottom) and the Philharmonic Hall (top). Photo: screenshot via Google Maps

The earmarked location is located between the Neue Nationalgalerie (bottom) and the Philharmonic Hall (top).
Photo: screenshot via Google Maps

Needless to say, developing a building that follows all of these opaque, intangible instructions and retains ideal conditions for viewing the city’s first-rate modern art collection is almost impossible.

Much of the blame has been placed on the shoulders of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages Berlin’s museums, and Regula Lüscher, head of the Berlin Building Authority.

Die Welt points out that since Lüscher took office, Berlin’s urban development proposals have descended into the ridiculous, including ideas such as turning the city’s polluted Spree river into a public bath.

The German daily accused the jury of selecting the “10 least expressive, and least poignant submissions,” but acknowledged that without a convincing framework that suits both Berlin’s urban development and the presentation of the city’s art collection, it was difficult to come to a decisive outcome.

The museum is to be built in a style consistent with the urban landscape, including the Philharmonic Hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The museum is to be built in a style consistent with the urban landscape, including the Philharmonic Hall.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, the area that Berlin’s Senate earmarked for the structure doesn’t leave much room for flexibility. The available land is a barren clearing between an important traffic artery, a heritage protected church, the existing adjacent museums, and the philharmonic hall.

Pressure on organizers remains high. Last February, the German Federal Court of Auditors warned that improper planning or mismanagement of the project could have disastrous consequences for the city’s already shaky finances.

The whole fiasco fits squarely into Berlin’s growing reputation for disorganized and nonsensical urban development, which now encompasses a grossly late and scandalously over budget airport, a $630.9 million reconstruction of a baroque city palace to house the Humboldt Forum, and now, the €200 million Museum of Modern Art. Berlin simply can’t afford another failure.


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