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23 February 2021
When construction on Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum started in 1876, its architect focused on showcasing masterpieces, not conserving energy. But it's now the world's first museum in an existing building to be awarded a five-star BREEAM sustainability certificate.
BREEAM assesses buildings on their environmental impacts and performance in nine categories, and the Rijksmuseum scored exceptionally well for water, energy and waste management. In 2019, for example, the museum used 16% less natural gas than the previous year, and excess warmth from the main building is used to heat adjacent buildings.
The Rijksmuseum is also working to reduce waste. Materials for exhibitions are normally discarded after a show closes, but following a recent Caravaggio-Bernini exhibition, cabinets went to a museum in the neighboring town of Amstelveen and fabric became part of a student project at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. The museum's gardens, meanwhile, have been redesigned as a green oasis that's open to all, with steps taken to increase biodiversity and use native plants instead of exotic species.
It's a good sign when cultural leaders strive to become environmental leaders, even though a museum visitor might not give energy efficiency or waste management a second thought. And maybe that's the point — unlike art, sustainability needs to become something we can take for granted.