Museum der Kulturen
Basel, Switzerland
Project 2001-2010, realization 2008-2010

The Museum der Kulturen Basel goes back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Replacing the Augustinian monastery on the Münsterhügel, the classicist building by architect Melchior Berri opened in 1849. The “Universal Museum”, as it was then called, was the city's first museum building. Designed to house both the sciences and the arts, it now holds one of the most important ethnographic collections in Europe, thanks largely to continuing gifts and bequests. In 1917, with holdings of some 40,000 objects, an extension by architects Vischer & Söhne was added. A second extension was projected in 2001 to accommodate what had, by now, become holdings of some 300,000 objects. Modifications would include an entrance especially for the Museum, thereby giving it a new identity.

Extending the building horizontally would have meant decreasing the size of the courtyard, the Schürhof. Instead, the Vischer building of 1917 has been given a new roof. Consisting of irregular folds clad in blackish green ceramic tiles, the roof resonates with the medieval roofscape in which it is embedded, while functioning at the same time as a clear sign of renewal in the heart of the neighborhood. The hexagonal tiles, some of them three-dimensional, refract the light even when the skies are overcast, creating an effect much like that of the finely structured brick tiles on the roofs of the old town. The steel framework of the folded roof allows for a column-free gallery underneath, an expressive space that forms a surprising contrast to the quiet, right-angled galleries on the floors below.

Up until now, the Museum der Kulturen and the Naturhistorisches Museum shared the same entrance at Augustinergasse. The former is now accessed directly from Münsterplatz through the previously inaccessible rear courtyard, the Schürhof. The courtyard, in its patchwork setting of the backs of medieval buildings, has now become an extension of the Münsterplatz. Part of the courtyard has been lowered and an expansive, gently inclined staircase leads down to the Museum entrance. Hanging plants and climbing vines lend the courtyard a distinctive atmosphere and, in concert with the roof, they give the Museum a new identity. The courtyard has become a social meeting place for all kinds of Museum activities and celebrations.

The weighty, introverted impression of the building, initially concealing its invaluable contents, is reinforced by the façades, many of whose windows have been closed off, and by the spiral-shaped construction for the hanging vegetation mounted under the eaves of the cantilevered roof above the new gallery. This is countered, however, by the foundation, which is slit open the entire length of the building and welcomes visitors to come in. These architectural interventions together with the vegetation divide the long, angular and uniform Vischer building of 1917 into distinct sections. The white stairs, the roof overhang, the climbing plants, the series of windows in the “piano nobile” and the glazed base lend the courtyard direction and give the building a face.

The windows were closed up not just to enhance the weight and elegance of the building; the additional wall space provided by this measure was equally important. The few remaining openings have been enlarged and now extend to the floor. The window reveals are so deep that they form small alcoves that look out onto the old town.

The sequence of rooms follows the same pattern on all three gallery floors. Only two rooms stand out: on the second floor, directly above the entrance, a large room with windows on one side faces the courtyard. Further up, a ceiling has been removed, creating a two-story room with a narrow window slit, where larger objects in the collection can be displayed. Visitors can look down on this new anchor room from above, much like the room containing the Abelam House, thus also providing orientation within the Museum.

The renovation of the galleries followed similar principles throughout. The older rooms have classicist coffered ceilings; those added later have concrete beams in one direction only. With the goal of restoring the original structure of the rooms, dropped ceilings were removed and technical services integrated as discreetly as possible into existing architectural elements.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2011


Herzog & de Meuron Team:
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Christine Binswanger (Partner in Charge)
Project Team: Martin Fröhlich (Associate), Mark Bähr (Project Architect)

Michael Bär, Béla Berec (Model), Giorgio Cadosch, Gilles le Coultre, Piotr Fortuna, Ines Huber, Volker Jacob, Jürgen Johner (Associate), Hamit Kaplan, Beatus Kopp, Laura Mc Quary, Severin Odermatt, Nina Renner, Nicolas Venzin, Thomas Wyssen

Construction lot 1: Stiftung Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland
Construction lot 2 and 3: Kanton Basel-Stadt; c/o Hochbau- und Planungsamt, Basel, Switzerland

General Planning: ARGE GP MKB, Basel, Switzerland
Architect Planning: Herzog & de Meuron, Basel, Switzerland
Architect Construction, Construction Management: Proplaning AG Architekten, Basel, Switzerland
Structural Engineering: ZPF Ingenieure, Basel, Switzerland
HVAC Engineering: Waldhauser Haustechnik AG, Basel, Switzerland
Plumbing Engineering: Aqua Planing, Arlesheim, Switzerland
Electrical Engineering: Herzog Kull Group AG, Basel, Switzerland
Landscape Design: Rapp Infra AG, Basel, Switzerland

Specialist / Consulting:
Facade / Roofing Consulting: Emmer Pfenninger Partner AG, Münchenstein, Switzerland
Building Physics: Zimmermann + Leuthe GmbH, Aetigkofen, Switzerland
Geometrician: Ammann AG, Basel, Switzerland
Civil Engineering, Traffic Planning: Rapp Infra AG, Basel, Switzerland
Fire Protection: Visiotec AG, Allschwil, Switzerland
Safety Consulting: Amstein + Walthert AG, Zürich, Switzerland
Lighting: Mati AG, Adliswil, Switzerland
Acoustics: Martin Lienhard, Büro für Bau- und Raumakustik, Langenbruck, Switzerland
Plant Project: Forster Baugrün AG, Kerzers, Switzerland; Planting: August Künzel Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Basel, Switzerland

Building Data:
Site Area: 2'305sqm
Building Footprint: 1'209sqm (existing)
Building Dimensions Extension: Length 29m, Width 27m, Height 10.5m
Gross Floor Area (GF): 6'350 sqm

- New top floor: New column-free gallery (ca. 600 sqm) within irregularly folded roof clad in blackish green ceramic tiles
- Courtyard: Lowering of the courtyard towards the new entrance in the former basement
- New entrance: New reception, shop, cloakroom and adjoining rooms in the former basement
- Plant project: Spiral-shaped constructions, mounted under the eaves of the cantilevered new roof, for hanging plants and perennials which are compatible with shadow or sun and provide colour diversity throughout the year: different types of ivy (Hedera), honeysuckles (Lonicera), periwinkle (Vinca), box plants (Pachysandra)
- Rehabilitation: Earthquake reinforcement, improved fire protection efficiency
- Modernisation infrastructure: New elevators for visitors, art handling and commodities


Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.): Arquitectura Viva Monografías. Herzog & de Meuron 2005-2013.
Vol. No. 157/158, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 09.2012.

Christoph Heim: Mit spektakulärem Dach in eine neue Ära. Das Basler Museum der Kulturen öffnet seine Tore wieder.
In: Moritz Suter (Ed.). Basler Zeitung. Die Zeitung der Nordwestschweiz. Basel, Basler Zeitung, 06.09.2011. p. 1; pp. 37-41.

Edited by: Museum der Kulturen Basel. Basel, Self-Publishing Museum der Kulturen, 2011. Vol. No. 1.

Eigensinn. Von Miss Kumbuk bis Herzog & de Meuron.
Edited by: Museum der Kulturen Basel. Basel, Self-Publishing Museum der Kulturen, 2011. Vol. No. 2.

Herzog & de Meuron: Museum der Kulturen Basel. Sanierung und Erweiterung. Basel, Schweiz 2001-2010.
In: Museum der Kulturen Basel (Ed.). Eigensinn. Von Miss Kumbuk bis Herzog & de Meuron. Basel, Self-Publishing Museum der Kulturen, 2011. Vol. No. 2. pp. 10-17.

Thomas Waldmann: Mehr Raum und verstärkte Identität.
In: Basler Zeitung. Die Zeitung der Nordwestschweiz. Vol. No. 217, Basel, Basler Zeitung, 18.09.2002. p. 27.