Private Museums of the World: Fondation Beyeler

A museum at the crossroads of culture and nature in Basel
Under the guidance of architect Renzo Piano, the acclaimed Beyeler Collection of art found a home in an English-style garden with a historical villa, old trees and water lily ponds.

by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Aug 13, 2021

Switzerland is known for both its public art museums and exquisite private collections; but it’s Basel that is widely considered the cultural capital. And it’s here in Riehen, a municipality of Basel, where one can find themselves in the presence of the greats from Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas and Henri Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, to name just a few.

The permanent collection – Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas, around 1917-1920; Auguste Rodin, Iris, messagère des dieux, 1890/91; Claude Monet, Le pont japonais, around 1918–1924 | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
The permanent collection – Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas, around 1917-1920; Auguste Rodin, Iris, messagère des dieux, 1890/91; Claude Monet, Le pont japonais, around 1918–1924 Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

When Ernst Beyeler took over an antiques business in Basel in 1945, he transformed it into an art gallery and dealership within two years. Over the years, Ernst and his wife Hildy, lovingly curated one of the most prolific and applauded art collections, going on to start the Fondation Beyeler museum in 1997 and even co-found the incredible ART Basel.

The Fondation Beyeler in winter | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
The Fondation Beyeler in winter Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

Designed by Genoese architect, Renzo Piano, the structure has been described as a ‘museological practicality’. Drawing from the architect’s decades of experience in the world of museum design, the building is a wonderful contrast of solid concrete walls and light glass ceiling; it had been envisioned as a light-filled ‘greenhouse’ for art merging with the surrounding natural landscape and uplifted by the historical villa.

  • Ernst and Hildy Beyeler in front of Galerie Beyeler | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    Ernst and Hildy Beyeler in front of Galerie Beyeler Image: Niggi Bräuning, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler
  • Ernst Beyeler and Renzo Piano at the opening of the Fondation Beyeler, 1997 | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    Ernst Beyeler and Renzo Piano at the opening of the Fondation Beyeler, 1997 Image: Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

The Historical Estate and Natural Landscape

Ernst wanted a space that was filled with natural light and engulfed in the natural landscape. In his home town of Riehen, he found just what he was looking for. The Fondation Beyeler museum was built in the middle of the beautiful Berower Estate close to the 18th century Villa Berower, which today houses the restaurant and offices. With the goal of art, architecture and nature harmonising, the building is surrounded by old trees, a water lily pond and views of cornfields, vineyards and the foothills of the Black Forest.

  • The 18th century Villa Berower today houses the Beyeler restaurant | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    The 18th century Villa Berower today houses the Beyeler restaurant Image: Robert Rieger, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler
  • The annual summer party held in the gardens against the backdrop of the Villa Berower | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    The annual summer party held in the gardens against the backdrop of the Villa Berower Image: Mathias Mangold, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

The single-level building is purposefully inconspicuous to merge the architecture with the landscape. The building was sunk into the ground, features a red porphyry – a volcanic rock from Patagonia – exterior façade and opens up to a pond on the southern side. Filled with water lilies, the pond mirrors the works of Monet, creating a seamless transition from the artwork inside to the natural scenery. To the west, the view stretches over the natural landscape to the Wiese River at the foot of the Tüllinger Hills.

The building was sunk into the ground, features a red porphyry exterior façade and opens up to a water lily pond on the southern side | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
The building was sunk into the ground, features a red porphyry exterior façade and opens up to a water lily pond on the southern side Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

The Museum by architect Renzo Piano

The building is thoughtfully designed to take a back seat to the art on display. Uniting concrete with glass, the structure features solid lengthy walls topped by a light ‘floating’ glass roof designed to filter in diffused natural light. The museum is made up of four main walls of equal length that run along the perimeter wall in a north-south direction, interspersed with cross sections of differing heights. The clear lines allow the visitors to focus on the art. The white galleries in themselves are minimal, ending with vast floor-to-ceiling windows which connect the indoors with the outside. Along the western side is a long and narrow winter garden encased in glass.

Inside, the galleries are left clean and minimal, to let the art take centre stage | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
Inside, the galleries are left clean and minimal, to let the art take centrestage Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

Light also plays a leading role in this ensemble cast. To filter in diffused light, the whole structure features a complex roof construction spread over 4000 square metres of the galleries. The saw tooth formation formed by over 800 angled louvered glass panels allow for airy and light-filled galleries without direct sunlight affecting the art on display. Held in place by a steel structure, the second layer of glass also works to counter the effects of outdoor temperature changes as well as forming a chamber for necessary artificial lightning. Under all this is a velum or membrane consisting of boxed perforated plates. Inside a layer of stretched white fabric ensures the uniform dispersion of light. 

  • The saw tooth roof of angled glass panels combined a velum of boxed perforated plates and a layer of stretched white fabric ensures the uniform dispersion of diffused daylight | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    The saw tooth roof of angled glass panels combined a velum of boxed perforated plates and a layer of stretched white fabric ensures the uniform dispersion of diffused daylight Image: Mathias Mangold, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler
  • The second layer of glass in the ‘floating’ roof works to counter the effects of outdoor temperature changes as well as forming a chamber for necessary artificial lightning | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
    The second layer of glass in the ‘floating’ roof works to counter the effects of outdoor temperature changes as well as forming a chamber for necessary artificial lightning Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

The Extension by Atelier Peter Zumthor

In June 2021, an extension project was given the green light and construction is scheduled for late summer this year. Designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor, the extension will create a unique ensemble of buildings and almost double the park area open to the public. Keeping with the nature-filled setting of Renzo Piano, the new addition will consist of three buildings – the grand House for Art, a minimal service building and a glass pavilion for events.

  • The extension project of the Fondation Beyeler with Atelier Peter Zumthor – House for Art (left) and Pavillon (right); View from the Berower Park | Fondation Beyeler | Atelier Peter Zumthor | STIRworld
    The extension project of the Fondation Beyeler with Atelier Peter Zumthor – House for Art (left) and Pavillon (right), view from the Berower Park Image: Courtesy of Atelier Peter Zumthor and Fondation Beyeler
  • House for Art, view from the Iselin-Weber Park | Fondation Beyeler | Atelier Peter Zumthor | STIRworld
    House for Art, view from the Iselin-Weber Park Image: Courtesy of Atelier Peter Zumthor and Fondation Beyeler

The first two will be built in Iselin-Weber Park, which adjoins the current museum grounds to the south. The single-level pavilion will be situated in Berower Park, next to the existing boundary wall. “Peter Zumthor brings great experience to the construction of cultural buildings,” says Sam Keller, the Director of the Fondation Beyeler of the Pritzker Architecture Prize winner. “The interaction between human beings, nature, art and architecture that has always characterised the Fondation Beyeler will be as successfully achieved as it was 20 years ago by Renzo Piano.”

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Peter Zumthor | Fondation Beyeler | Atelier Peter Zumthor | STIRworld
Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Peter Zumthor Image: Martin Mischkulnig, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

Comments

Comments Added Successfully!

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
2370,2417,2440,2518,2593

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

Collaborate with us

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE