Expansion of the Aargauer Kunsthaus
Aarau, Switzerland
Competition 1996-1997, project 1998-1999, realization 2001-2003

Park and museum
Two salient urban features define the space in the immediate environs of the Aargauer Kunsthaus: the historical ensemble of government buildings with their expansive staircases and terraces, and the spacious, wooded park, originally hidden behind the Kunsthaus and the cantonal library. The relationship between these elements has been clarified, enabling them to become effective as architecture. Our proposal for the extension of the Kunsthaus is thus based on fundamental concerns of urban development. With the completed extension the park continues down to the Bahnhofstrasse and the Kunsthaus reaches into the park. Park and museum form a whole ― the park has become part of the museum and the museum part of the park.


The extension to the Kunsthaus is conceived as an elevated terrace. This elevated and planted urban terrace might be called topographical architecture. There are well-known historical antecedents, such as the pedestal of the Albertina in Vienna, the greenhouse terraces at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam or the terrace of the Villa Doria in Rome. A topographical, landscaping element of this kind is formed by the raised square of plane trees in front of the neighboring parliament building. This square is now logically complemented and completed by the terrace of the museum extension.


The extension of the Kunsthaus symmetrically frames the west side of the government building, thereby strengthening the status of the Aargauerplatz. The idea of overcoming the topographical difference in height by means of a flight of stairs, as in the government building, has been applied to the new extension of the museum. The shape of the stairs relates to the iconic circular staircase of the old museum. But the new stairs – themselves a kind of sculpture that marks the new main entrance – also function in many respects like an articulated link.


The crystalline interior of the lobby is conceived as an artificial cave or grotto, once again a motif from the iconography of garden architecture. This sculpturally shaped interior space actually marks the end of the park facing the city while opening up and establishing a link with the interior of the museum as well.


Pedestals of various architectural shapes characterize both the rustically designed, historical government building as well as the Kunsthaus of 1956. The extension takes up this motif, using pedestals to link the various parts of the building on site.


It unites solid construction with glass structures; transparent glazing alternates with solid, glass-clad sections of walls. Room-height windows in the exhibition spaces and the lobby open the building to view inside and outside. At dusk, the pedestal becomes a body of light, a focus of attention in the public urban space of Aarau.


Exhibition spaces
The architecture of the existing Aargauer Kunsthaus has a clear arrangement of differently illuminated exhibition spaces: a space with overhead illumination on the second floor; a space with lateral illumination on the ground floor; and a space with artificial illumination on the lower level. The extension adds to this simple, clear-cut and effective use of space and light without interfering with it. A new laterally illuminated space adjoins the existing one; a new space with artificial light is built on to the existing one, and with exactly the same dimensions.


The curators have at their disposal a great variety of exhibition layouts, concepts, and means of subdividing the spaces. In addition, each of the floors can be used as a single, open-plan space with homogeneous lighting.


The glazed inner courtyard becomes the center of the remodeled Aargauer Kunsthaus. It provides an atrium for the ground floor exhibition spaces. Parts of the glazed walls can be closed off from inside to meet curatorial needs. The courtyard itself can also be incorporated in the exhibitions, thus adding space to the interior of the museum.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2006


Herzog & de Meuron Team:
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Harry Gugger
Project Architect: Philippe Fürstenberger (Associate), Giorgio Cadosch, Carmen Müller
Project Team: Adrian Boss, Nicholas Lyons, Philipp Schaerer

Partner: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Harry Gugger, Christine Binswanger
Project Architect: Reto Oechslin
Project Team: Konstanze Beelitz, Hans-Ulrich Matter, Abigail Pearson

In Collaboration with:
Rémy Zaugg, Basel, Switzerland

Baudepartement des Kantons Aargau, Abteilung Hochbau, Aarau, Schweiz

General planning: ARGE Herzog & de Meuron / Proplaning AG, Basel, Schweiz
Structural Engineering: Walter Mory Maier, Bauingenieure AG, Basel, Schweiz
HVAC Engineering: Waldhauser Haustechnik AG, Basel, Schweiz
Plumbing: B. Friedrich, Zürich, Schweiz
Electrical Engineering: EAG, Basel, Switzerland
Landscape Design: August Künzel, Binningen, Schweiz

Specialist / Consulting:

Facade Consultant: Emmer, Pfenninger + Partner, Münchenstein, Schweiz
Structure Physics: Gartenmann Engineering AG, Basel, Schweiz
Lighting: Ove Arup & Partners, Consulting Engineers, London, UK
Acoustics: Martin Lienhard, Langenbruck, Schweiz

Building Data:

Expansion: Length 56m, Width 25m, Height 5.8m
Building Footprint: 1,200sqm
Gross Floor Area: 2,500sqm
Old Exhibition Area: 1,803sqm
New Exhibition Area: 2,950sqm


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