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KUNSTHAUS ZÜRICH EXTENSION
Zürich, Switzerland

CLIENT Kunsthaus Zürich
PROGRAM Extension to an existing art museum, including galleries for French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, international art since 1960, and temporary exhibitions; education and event spaces; central hall and visitor services; offices and workshops; and art warehousing
AREA 12,800 m² (137,000 sf)
COST CHF 150.0 million (approximately $137.0 million)
STATUS Competition, 2008
ARCHITECT REX
PERSONNEL Christopher Agosta, Jeffrey Franklin, Javier Haddad, David Menicovich, Joshua Ramus, Jacob Reidel, Alejandro Schieda, Eugenia Zimmermann
CONSULTANTS Field Operations, Front, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Tillotson Design, Transsolar

Flexibility in contemporary museum design is typically conceived as the creation of generic white boxes in which any exhibition format can be constructed. In practice, as art production grows more diverse and operational budgets scarce, the promise of a blank slate upon which any curatorial vision can be staged becomes constrictive: museum directors and curators cannot afford to transform these generic spaces. The result is not freedom, but imprisonment within a white box.

In contrast, the Kunsthaus Extension can cultivate a more refined approach to museum flexibility by organizing its galleries into an array of distinct typologies, each with its own proportions, materiality, lighting, and circulation. Tailored flexibility remains possible within each gallery type, but without sacrificing the unique qualities of the others. The array thereby sustains curatorial freedom regardless of budgetary constraint: by enabling a wide range of works to be grouped in dynamic contexts within a single building, it can accommodate a spectrum of curatorial visions with little or no alteration to the gallery spaces themselves.

Seemingly, the most compact, simple volume for the stacked galleries—and therefore the most energy- and cost efficient organization—would be a cube. However, a cube does not accommodate the passive energy solutions required by the Kunsthaus Zürich’s adoption of the 2000-Watt Society, such as optimal use of daylight, ample surfaces for photo-voltaics, and self-shading to reduce solar thermal loads. By asymmetrically stretching the cube’s top in response to the angles of the sun…

…the resulting shape is an optimal combination of minimized overall surface area, maximized daylight penetration and photo-voltaic surface, and favorable sun response (the shape being self-shading in summer, yet allowing sun access in winter).

The galleries are sorted into an array of three distinct typologies—universal, classical, and lyric—and by daylight requirements, locating rooms that demand the most daylight on the higher floors. Instead of a linear, chronological presentation of art work, the typological array can reveal coherence, affinities, and tensions within a range of epochs and movements.

Contrast between typologies is emphasized by allowing their stairs and floor plans to subtly infiltrate the other floors.

Level 1, with its open plan evoking the universality of the Centre Pompidou and Neue Nationalgalerie, houses the temporary exhibitions and two units of galleries for international art since the 1960’s with the lowest natural light requirements. Similar to these museums, Level 1 is entirely reconfigurable; light is admitted or controlled from the perimeter; and artworks can be hung by direct attachment to the trusswork above.

The presence of Level 2’s classical galleries above is revealed by bringing that floor’s Imperial stair down into Level 1 and recording the plan of Level 2’s symmetrical gallery layout in Level 1’s ceiling.

Housing the Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection and the galleries for 19th century/classical modernism, Level 2 recalls the classicism of the original Kunsthaus Zürich with its axial, formal parti.

The classical nature of these galleries is subtly reinterpreted by skylights that provide a filtered visual connection to the spaces for repose on Level 3. The central gallery for the Bührle Collection’s masterworks and the Kunsthaus collection’s Water Lilies Room straddle a formal entrance hall (with a classic Imperial stair), engendering equivalence between the two collections while still enabling them to be displayed on their own.

Evoking the spatial heterogeneity and informality of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Level 3 provides a playful field of boxes of various proportions (and occasionally unique shapes) with which—and against which—curators can operate. Housing four, seemingly unorganized units of galleries for international art since the 1960’s, Level 3 is actually arranged into clearly defined quadrants. Each quadrant can be used separately or as part of a larger curatorial sequence. A variety of differently configurable room sequences can be achieved by combining units, or using only one or two units at a time.

And like the Louisiana and Kanazawa Museums, Level 3 enjoys lyrical circulation designed to provide spaces for repose and contemplation between galleries, and lively, natural light, most notably through skylights with a gradient pattern that allows sky views at the center of the room during the day and night while preventing direct sunlight on or near the gallery walls.

The moments of repose between the Level 3 boxes are sheltered by photo-voltaic glass that allows light to filter down to levels below.
 

The clarity of the three gallery floors is emphasized by the building’s structural system. Level 2 is not only the Kunsthaus extension’s artistic bridge between the older artistic movements and modern painting, but also its structural bridge spanning the Ground Floor. A series of story-high, steel mega-trusses are concealed within the matrix of Level 2’s gallery walls to form a table top. The mega-trusses span between four concrete cores, cantilevering past them to form the table top’s perimeter. The concrete cores house the vertical circulation and mechanical distribution, and serve as the table’s primary gravity and lateral support.

Level 2’s mega-trusses in turn support Level 1 with hanger columns, and provide a base upon which Level 3’s gallery boxes rest. By hanging Level 1 from above, the Ground Level enjoys a column free space interrupted only by the four concrete cores, allowing circulation and activity from the Heimplatz to flow virtually uninterrupted through the Kunsthaus extension.

The resultant building shape responds equally to urban concerns as it does programmatic requirements. Along its most public frontage, the canted form—wider at the top, narrower at the bottom—simultaneously holds the edge of the site and increases the Heimplatz’s dimension to echo its true significance within the City. The public, spatial quality of the Heimplatz is enlarged and enhanced by the Kunsthaus extension even if transformation of the square itself does not begin for many years. Further, as one enters the extension, the existing Kunsthaus Zürich is reflected by the extension’s façade, creating a dialogue with the rest of the Kunsthaus’ building ensemble; yet, the sloped facades prevent light from reflecting into the extension’s neighbors. In contrast, along Kantonsschulstrasse—a smaller-scale street in close proximity to the Schulhaus Wolfbach—the façade becomes stone and vertical, responding to the site conditions in a more austere and intimate manner.

During daytime, a slumped, mirrored façade creates a jewel-like object in the heart of Zürich that reflects and magnifies the activity of the Heimplatz and the entrance to the Cultural Mile along Rämistrasse.

By night, the facade dematerializes like a jellyfish, revealing the stack of gallery typologies within and contributing to an active evening scene on the Heimplatz.

Rather than viewing the building as an object set within residual landscape spaces, the entire ground plane is conceived as an extensive, open, public surface: a landscape of activity. This sloping, rectangular “floor” encompasses the Heimplatz, the extension’s frontage and Central Hall, and the Art Garden.

A “Thoroughfare” is created from the steps of the original Kunsthaus through the Central Hall and Art Garden up to the steps of the Rämibühl Cantonal School, reinforcing the axial orientation of the existing, historic buildings and drawing people from the Heimplatz into the extension. Like a river, the Thoroughfare winds around activities along its course: ticketing, orientation, coatcheck, café/bar, shop, entrance to the education/event spaces, entrance to the galleries, and the exterior performance area.

The form and placement of these activities can evolve over time without impacting the clarity of the original gesture, and their hours of operation can be independent of one another. Taking advantage of the site’s gradual slope, the Thoroughfare (level with the Heimplatz) creates a protected zone for important art works and a proscenium for art performances as it extends into the Art Garden. Parallel to the Thoroughfare and protected by the extension’s canted façade is a revitalized “Gate to the Arts” along Rämistrasse.

The form and placement of these activities can evolve over time without impacting the clarity of the original gesture, and their hours of operation can be independent of one another. Taking advantage of the site’s gradual slope, the Thoroughfare (level with the Heimplatz) creates a protected zone for important art works and a proscenium for art performances as it extends into the Art Garden. Parallel to the Thoroughfare and protected by the extension’s canted façade is a revitalized “Gate to the Arts” along Rämistrasse.

Images Credits: 1, 18, 19, 24: Luxigon; 9, 11, 13, 14, 23: on3studio; 28: Field Operations

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