A Modern Addition Planned for a Picturesque Museum in Zurich

In December the Swiss federal parliament, as well as the state and municipal governments of Zurich, approved funding for an extension to the Swiss National Museum. Groundbreaking on the 111 million CFH ($93.5 million) addition, designed by the Basel, Switzerland–based Christ & Gantenbein Architects, will take place in 2010 with completion scheduled for 2013.

Swiss National Museum
Swiss National Museum
Images courtesy Christ & Gantenbein Architects
Switzerland'based Christ & Gantenbein Architects has designed a new wing for the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.

The extension will add approximately 79,000 square feet to the original museum, which is located at the head of Platzspitz Park in downtown Zurich, adjacent to the city’s central train station. It also will serve to reconfigure the circulation of the historic building, completed in 1898 by Zurich chief architect Gustav Gull. The plan of the complex suggests a Greek key, with two courtyards facing opposite directions. Christ & Gantenbein’s faceted, bridge-like contribution will link the two disparate parts and stitch together their interiors so that visitors can circulate through the museum in a continuous loop.

Christ & Gantenbein won the competition to expand the Swiss National Museum in 2002, just four years after partners Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein founded their eponymous studio. The design was chosen by a 15-person jury that applauded its expressiveness—holding its own against Gull’s castle-like architecture. Christ notes, too, that the addition’s “exposed-concrete facade is a contemporary answer to the stone architecture of the old building.” Jurors were also impressed by how the extension touches the ground lightly, creating an underpass for pedestrians entering from Platzspitz Park. The new wing does not block views of the older museum’s fairytale roofline.

Given that the design is now six years old, Christ acknowledges that what seemed striking and original may appear less so today. Indeed, the Swiss Nation Museum extension’s tessellated planes have become a common motif in contemporary design. As a result, currently the studio is considering slight changes to its addition, such as cloaking it in a gradation of color that would dramatize its geometry.

Construction of the extension accompanies a complete restoration of the Gull building. The first phase of that project concludes next year, and a second, two-year restoration phase will commence after the new wing is completed. The Christ & Gantenbein–designed volume will house special and temporary exhibitions devoted to Swiss history, while the Gull building will contain the permanent collection.