BIG builds spiral museum for luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet in Switzerland

Bjarke Ingels Group designs the glass and steel clad Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, its double spiral form set within the undulating landscape of the Swiss village Le Brassus.

by Jincy Iype Published on : May 21, 2020

Bjarke Ingels Group has built a timeless, contemporary museum that spirals leisurely amid the snowy landscape of Switzerland to house timeless pieces of the luxury watch brand, Audemars Piguet. The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is nestled among the historical complex of workshops and factories in Le Brassus, in the heart of La Vallée de Joux, and will function as a museum, archive and workshop for the brand. “Its organisation and architecture embodies the core values of Audemars Piguet,” mentions the press statement from BIG. The quaint Swiss village has served as headquarters for Audemars Piguet’s original workshop, established in 1875, and looks forward to increased tourism with the BIG-designed museum. This historic workshop building has been connected to the new spiraling museum, and has been restored by Swiss office CCHE.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is nestled in the heart of La Vallée de Joux, in the Swiss village of Le Brassus | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is nestled in the heart of La Vallée de Joux, in the Swiss village of Le Brassus Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The Danish firm led by architect Bjarke Ingels, known for their outlandish, contemporary architecture, won the competition to design the museum in 2014. Set to open this summer (tentative date – June 25, 2020), the watch museum is rendered with glass and steel, its roof blanketed with landscape, or covered with layers of snow during the colder months.

  • The Audemars Piguet watch museum’s roof is covered with landscape and snow, help up by thick glass walls | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    The Audemars Piguet watch museum’s roof is covered with landscape and snow, help up by thick glass walls Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The swirling Audemars Piguet museum’s roof is covered by snow in the months of winter | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    The swirling Audemars Piguet museum’s roof covered by snow in winter Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The swirling museum stands testament to the watchmaking culture and heritage of the brand, a sturdy and contemporary form linking the past and the present. “We wanted a structure that would be integrated into the landscape with unobstructed views of the valley so that visitors could experience our heritage,” says Jasmine Audemars, chairwoman of the Board of Directors at Audemars Piguet.The museum’s architecture doesn’t merely blend into the undulating landscape; it becomes it.

Model of the museum designed by BIG | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
Model of the museum designed by BIG Image Credit: Courtesy of BIG

The complicated double spiral design of the watch museum seeks to imbibe the intricate watch designs of the brand - the iconic watchmakers obviously sought out an iconic structure to represent them. The roof of the museum doubles up as a path that can be walked upon, supported by thick, glass walls as facades. The glass employed in the building is designed to combat extreme temperature variations, and are thick enough to become load bearing.

The museum’s roof is covered with landscape, help up by thick glass walls | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
The museum’s roof is covered with landscape, help up by thick glass walls Image Credit: Iwan Baan

Glass also divides the interiors, making it a transparent and open space, where visitors will become privy to the watchmaking process. Watches are perched on stands, some enclosed within glass cases, and arranged to look like golden, celestial bodies inside the museum. Interactive models and watch sculptures also provide an insight into the brand’s legacy, and the fine workings of an AP timepiece. The exhibition spaces are planned in a linear sequence that links and bends to form a continuous spiral. This museum is connected to the former exhibition building through an entrance hall at its front. The exhibition spaces showcase 300 watches from Audemars Piguet’s collection, and its interiors have been realised by German architecture studio Atelier Brückner.

  • AP watches arranged to look like celestial beings inside the museum’s exhibition spaces | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    AP watches arranged to look like celestial beings inside the museum’s exhibition spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of Audemars Piguet
  • The spiral watch museum offers stunning views of the Swiss mountains and landscape | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    The spiral watch museum offers stunning views of the Swiss mountains and landscape Image Credit: Courtesy of Audemars Piguet
  • Inside the exhibition spaces of Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    Inside the exhibition spaces of Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet Image Credit: Courtesy of Audemars Piguet

Bjarke Ingels Group also states that the museum’s design "must be characterised by the independent spirit of the family-owned company that has retained autonomy over the years, making it a game-changing innovator in a field governed by rules and traditions. It must be rooted in the heritage of watchmaking in La Vallée de Joux, which goes back centuries and is nestled in the nature and culture of the place and the people of the valley. And finally, it must incorporate the inner tension that characterises Audemars Piguet and resonates throughout the brand, the craft and the designs as captured in the motto: to break the rules you must first master them.”

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet’s spiral form nestled in nature | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet’s spiral form nestled in nature Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The museum is designed to be load bearing throughout, and therefore hosts no walls or columns inside its form. The undulating landscape informs the design, as the structure’s glazed facade provides unobstructed views of the mountain range. A patterned lattice of brass and steel shades the glass, and is carried throughout the building’s exterior. The gently curving concentric circles of the form ensures that nothing is concealed - the spiral rises and falls, its clerestory windows allowing daylight to puncture the museum’s insides.

  • A patterned bronze lattice provides shade to the museum’s form | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    A patterned bronze lattice provides shade to the museum’s form Image Credit: Courtesy of Audemars Piguet
  • The gently curving concentric circles of the form ensures that nothing is concealed | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    The gently curving concentric circles of the form ensures that nothing is concealed Image Credit: Iwan Baan

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet’s curvilinear form is also a symbolic representation of an AP timepiece. The museum’s unusual slanting floors follow the topography of the site, while its walls of glass congregate inside in a clockwise direction, resembling a watch’s spring, and urges visitors to foray into the museum intuitively.

  • Diagram of the spiraling form of the museum’s insides | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    Diagram of the spiraling form of the museum’s insides Image Credit: Courtesy of BIG
  • Structural concept of the museum | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
    Structural concept of the museum Image Credit: Courtesy of BIG

The cultural landmark’s opening might get further delayed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but when it does, it will allow visitors into its exhibition spaces that will also present the brand's 145 years of legacy, its sophisticated collection of timepieces and their process of watchmaking. 

Diagrams explaining the museum’s form and spaces | Bjarke Ingels Group builds Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet | STIRworld
Diagrams explaining the museum’s form and spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of BIG

“Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is conceived as an oxymoron. Striking yet subtle. Contemporary yet timeless. Functional yet sculptural. Floating yet rooted. Local presence with a global resonance. A striking landmark that is seamlessly integrated in the local landscape. A contemporary yet timeless architecture that blends with the historical buildings to create an intuitive sequence of spaces – old and new. A pavilion for the art and science of watchmaking that is conceived as a storyline for the visitors – every element is governed by the functional requirements of the exhibition, while appearing as a striking sculpture conceived in a single gesture,” as described by BIG.

Project Details

Name: Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet
Location: Le Brassus, Switzerland
Area: 2,373 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Project type: Competition
Program: Culture
Client: Audemars Piguet
Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group
Collaborators: BIG IDEAS, Atelier Bruckner, HG Merz, Luchinger und Meyer, Muller Illien
Partners-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels, Thomas Christoffersen, Daniel Sundlin, Beat Schenk
Project Leaders: Simon Scheller (Project Manager), Matthew Oravec (Project Architect), Otilia Pupezeanu (Project Designer), Ji-Young Yoon (Project Leader, Concept), Rune Hansen (Project Manager)
Project Team: Adrien Mans, Alessandra Peracin, Ashton Stare, Blake Theodore Smith, Claire Thomas, Dammy Lee, Eva Maria Mikkelsen, Evan Wiskup, Høgni Laksafoss, Iva Ulam, Jan Casimir, Jason Wu, Julien Beauchamp-Roy, Kristian Hindsberg, Marcin Fejcak, Marie Lancon, Maureen Rahman, Maxime Le Droupeet, Natalie Kwee, Pascal Loschetter, Pierre Goete Teodor Javanaud Emden, Tore Bank, Ute Rinnebach, Veronica Lalli, Vivien Cheng, Yaziel Juarbe

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About Author

Jincy Iype

Jincy Iype

Iype is a trained architect, who often indulges in writing and amateur photography. She was a cinephile and a melophile even before she knew what those words meant. She is inclined towards architecture journalism, and can usually be found curled up reading a book, or cooking for therapeutic relief.

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