by Nadezna SiganporiaDec 08, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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.”