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Anniversary of old NATO headquarters a prod for the new

March 31, 2016 - BELGIUM

NATO opened its present headquarters 49 years ago and the anniversary offers a symbolic target for inaugurating its vast new palace of steel and glass in Brussels.

Opening the facility by the anniversary would be an undertaking as colossal as the project, given the setbacks, but NATO might choose to make the attempt for its public relations value. The setbacks involve massive cost overruns and threatened insolvency of the construction consortium, the BAM Alliance. The architects who won the design contract, SOM+ASSAR, describe the shape of the building as evoking fingers interlaced in a symbolic clasp of unity. Set on a 41-hectare campus, the building includes a highly secure data center and 245,000 square meters of office, conference and recreational space. It provides each member nation with embassy-level security and privacy, while also offering communal spaces where delegates can convene. NATO leaders decided to replace NATO headquarters with the new purpose-built building at the Washington summit in 1999. By 2003 it was clear that estimates were inadequate to accommodate the facility’s ambitious scale, unique winged design and extreme cybersecurity requirements. Der Spiegel reported in Jan 2014 that the construction consortium was in financial difficulties and the project was at risk of being halted. The setback was an embarrassment for outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, according to the report. BAM Alliance was seeking an additional €245 million to complete the project, with a delay of at least nine months. Spiegel notes that it quickly became clear in a meeting of representatives of all 28 NATO states on Dec 19, 2013, that there was no question of the project being halted. Many delegates, including the Germans, said they favored providing additional funds. "We pointed to the disastrous effect on the image of the alliance if construction were to stop and if NATO appeared to be incapable of punctually completing a construction," the German ambassador, Martin Erdmann, told Berlin in a confidential cable reported by Spiegel. Erdmann warned of the risk of a further cost increase, adding that the additional costs were the lesser evil.

New NATO Headquarters (NATO Dec 2015)

Risk for Rasmussen: New NATO Headquarters in Financial Trouble (Spiegel 20 Jan 2014)

NATO headquarters (SOM web)

NATO Fast Facts (CNN 22 Jun 2015)