by John JervisMay 11, 2020
A cubical volume featuring sleek vertical fins in Jurassic limestone on its façade reveals itself as the newest addition to the existing Kunsthaus Zurich art facility. British architect David Chipperfield’s $220-million, 23,300 sqm project has delivered the institution the status of 'the largest art museum in Switzerland'. The building is the fourth structure added to the museum, which is home to some of the most important art collections in the country put together over the years by local art association, Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft. The rest of the campus comprises the Moser building, Pfister building, and the Mullar building, completed in 1910, 1958, and 1976 respectively.
Located on the northern edge of Heimplatz square in Zurich, the new extension forms part of what the architects refer as 'an urban entry to the education mile' owing to the built fabric in its vicinity, which includes the Schauspielhaus theatre and several local universities. The three-storey building presents art from the 1960s and later, works of Classical Modernism, the Emil Bührle Collection, and medium-sized temporary exhibitions.
The clear, geometric form of the museum and its traditional stone façade draws inspiration from the identity of an 1842-built cantonal school that once sit to the north of the site. Chipperfield’s design of the new museum constitutes an expansive hall on the ground floor and the two upper stories are dedicated to art showcases and works of legends like van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cézanne, and Degas. The former, spanning the complete length of the building, serves as a link between the museum and the city, connecting the public square on the south, and the Garden of Art to the north. Enclosed public connectivity within the existing and new museum facility is channelled through a passageway running below the square.
Inside the museum, staircases lead visitors to vast art galleries on the upper floors. A rhythmic play of natural light and shadows casting on bare concrete surfaces abstract this transition between floors. Explaining the spatial idea and layout in a press release, David Chipperfield Architects shares, “The internal organisation is based on the concept of a ‘house of rooms’. This idea finds its expression in the different design of the rooms in terms of size, orientation, materiality and lighting, giving each its own character and creating a diverse sequence of spaces.” They continue, “The varying dimensioned exhibition spaces are characterised by a calm materiality and an abundance of daylight – side lights on the first floor and skylights opening on the second floor – placing the immediate experience of art at the centre of the visitor experience.”
The building which opened to the public on October 09, 2021, after 12 years of planning and construction, faces a troubled history of the Kunsthaus Zurich. The presenting works from the Bührle Collection in the new extension once belonged to Emil Georg Bührle (1890-1956), a Swiss arms manufacturer for the Nazi Germany and the Allies during the Second World War who also employed hundreds of young women in slave labour. He is also known to have bought art that was looted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors and gallery owners. A book probing into the connection between Bührle and Kunsthaus has also been recently released by historian Eric Keller. Titled 'Das kontaminierte Museum’, which translates to 'The Contaminated Museum', the publication looks into how the collection, contaminated by war, displacement and the Holocaust, found its way into a public museum. Bührle, appointed as a member of Kunsthaus Zurich’s board of trustees in 1940, has also been behind the funding of Pfister building which completed in 1958.