Munch Museum’s future uncertain

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Norway’s directorate for cultural heritage (Riksantikvar) has blocked plans, at least temporarily, to build a new Munch Museum near Oslo’s waterfront Opera House at Bjørvika, claiming it will ruin views and dominate the skyline. No one now knows what the final outcome will be, and opponents of the waterfront project are reviving efforts to build a new museum on its existing site instead.

The much-discussed high-rise design for a new Munch Museum may never be built. PHOTO: MIR/Herreros Arquitectos/Oslo kommune

Local Labour Party politician Jan Bøhler wants to build a new museum to house the paintings of famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch on the site of the existing Munch Museum at Tøyen, on Oslo’s east side. That’s where the museum was initially placed for political reasons when it opened nearly 50 years ago, to better spread cultural institutions around town.

“It would be better and cheaper to build (at Tøyen) than in Bjørvika,” Bøhler told newspaper Aftenposten. “Politicians and the public are growing more skeptical to Lambda,” he added, referring to the name of the design by the Spanish architecture firm that won the competition for a new Munch Museum in Bjørvika.

Riksantikvar Jørn Holme has raised objections to all three museum proposals for Bjørvika. According to Bøhler, only a small group of Conservatives continue to hold out in favour of the Lambda design. Last week, Holme effectively halted the Bjørvika plans, raising several objections to the planning authorities’ suggestions. Among them was how the high-rise plan would block views towards Ekeberg and a park that features foundations of old churches from the Middle Ages.

‘Stealing’ open green space
“We can’t accept a plan that blocks off one of Oslo’s most important historical places,” Holme told newspaper Dagsavisen. He noted that the city’s massive waterfront redevelopment has been justified by the need for more open green space along the waterfront, but Holme claims the Bjørvika project is “stealing” from existing green area of the Middle Ages park.

Holme’s objections “jeopardize the entire Bjørvika plan,” an upset Bård Folke Fredriksen, the Conservative Party’s head of Oslo’s public planning committee, told Aftenposten. Now the city’s politicians will have to go through a new round of negotiations

Building a new Munch Museum at Tøyen will be part of the Oslo Labour Party’s manifesto going into this year’s local elections in September. If the Labour Party wins power over city government this autumn, a new architectural competition for a new museum at Tøyen will be announced almost immediately.

Holme has asked for new designs that would move the Bjørvika museum further back from the shoreline, but Bøhler does not support his alternative. “It’s not a simple matter to move the buildings further back on the quay. There’s not much room there either,” Bøhler continued.

Cheaper at Tøyen
According to Bøhler the Tøyen alternative will be NOK 500 million to 1 billion (as much as USD 180 million) less expensive because the local authorities already own the land at Tøyen and the harbour alternative would require deep pilings to secure its new foundations.

“In the Labour Party we’ll work hard so that Oslo gets its long-awaited aquarium” on the waterfront instead, Bøhler told Aftenposten.

Locating a new museum to house Edvard Munch’s art, which Munch willed to the city when he died in 1944, has been a long process. The original museum at Tøyen was completed in 1963. In 2005, expansion and modernization of the existing museum at Tøyen was voted through by the city government. This work was well underway when the politicians began to discuss relocation. In 2009 the decision to move to Bjørvika was made. Now it seems that the end result may turn out to be Tøyen again, while calls are also going out for a new museum at the site of Munch’s former studio at Ekely on Oslo’s west side.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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