The stork’s nest as a metaphor for scientific freedom

Berlin-based artist Fritz Balthaus has won the “Kunst am Bau” two-stage open public art competition organized by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. His work “kunstnest” (“art/artificial nest”) accompanies three newly constructed buildings on the Berlin-Buch research campus.


MDC’s in-vivo pathophysiology laboratory IPL, the Charité’s experimental medicine research center FEM, and a shared infrastructure building are currently being erected on the campus. The Kunst am Bau competition was organized for these buildings.

1. Preis des Wettbewerbs: "kunstnest" von Fritz Balthaus. Rendering: Fritz Balthaus.

First prize of the competition: “kunstnest” by Fritz Balthaus. Rendering: Fritz Balthaus.

The work by Fritz Balthaus entitled “kunstnest” represents a tower topped by a stork’s nest. It will be placed at the entrance to the FEM. The tower, which is as high as a building, is formed from street lamps and wooden slats with a stork’s nest on top. The different elements come from the immediate locality, meaning that both the work’s materials and its theme enter into dialog with the environment. The uncertainty as to whether storks will actually adopt the nest and settle there is part of the artistic intent.

The jury’s verdict

A jury chaired by artist Eva-Maria Schön selected the draft submitted by Balthaus for realization. From the jury’s verdict:

“The ‘stork’s nest’ is described as an ‘art nest’ or ‘artificial nest’. The stork provides an association only, because the form of the sculpture merely opens up the possibility of it becoming an actual stork’s nest. What might happen then? It is unpredictable – it could become a scientist’s dream, a utopia. Here the stork represents scientific experimentation and its usefulness: over the course of a year the nest would be occupied for four months – for the rest of the year the tall sculpture formed from street lamps illuminates itself, and its light draws attention to the location. It is visible from a distance, which is an added advantage for this area on the edge of the campus. The sculpture consists of seven lamps, without holders, of the sort that are found on the campus. They have been treated as objets trouvés that have been brought together to form part of the sculpture, and they give out their own light. The wood on the top comes from the immediate locality and suggests a thrown-together cluster – as in a bird’s nest. There has been some debate about whether its purpose is also to serve as a warning of the decline in stork numbers or the reduction in nature conservation areas. Could the stork’s nest also be a metaphor relating the freedom of avian flight to the freedom of scientific research?”

Public art on the campus

Building projects that use public funds are obliged to dedicate a certain proportion of the construction costs (around one percent) to public art.

The multi-faceted interactions between art and science are already a feature of the campus. The aim of this competition was to deepen and continue this discourse. The artistic input is designed to contribute to and enhance the campus environment, particularly along the southern edge where the new buildings are being constructed.

Other prizewinners

Second prize was awarded to the work “Elefantenzahnpasta” (“elephant toothpaste”) by Oliver Strömer and Cisca Bogmann from Berlin. The sculpture represents an interpretation of the “elephant’s toothpaste” experiment in which hydrogen peroxide, potassium iodide and surfactants are mixed to produce a long squirt of foam. The work embodies the causality principle in scientific experiments.

Markus Klink from Stuttgart received third prize for his work “Wächter” (“watcher”), a lifelike bronze sculpture of a buzzard observing the activity on the campus from atop a concrete post.

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