Museum der Kulturen
Herzog & de Meuron

June 11, 2012 /

Basel, Switzerland

Photo courtesy Museum der Kulturen, Basel

The Museum der Kulturen Basel dates 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. An extension by architects Vischer & Söhne was added in 1917.

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.

Photo Iwan Baan

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.

Photo Iwan Baan

Photo Iwan Baan

Photo Iwan Baan

Up until now, the Museum der Kulturen and the Naturhistorisches Museum shared the same entrance on 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.

Photo Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_7.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_8.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

The weighty, introverted impression of the building, initially concealing its invaluable contents, is reinforced by the facades, 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.

Photo Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_10.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_11.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_12.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

museum_der_kulturen_13.jpgPhoto Iwan Baan

Designed to house both the sciences and the arts, the Museum der Kulturen, with holdings of some 300,000 objects, now holds one of the most important ethnographic collections in Europe thanks largely to continuing gifts and bequests.

Facts about Museum der Kulturen

Site Area:

2,305 m2
Building Footprint: 1,209 m2 (existing)
Gross Floor Area (GF): 6,350 m2

Construction lot 1:

Stiftung Museum der Kulturen, Basel

Client Construction lot 2 and 3:

Kanton Basel-Stadt;  c/o Hochbau- und Planungsamt, Basel


Jacques Herzog
Pierre de Meuron
Christine Binswanger

Project Architects:

Martin Fröhlich (Associate)
Mark Bähr
Michael Bär
Project Team:
Piotr Fortuna
Volker Jacob
Beatus Kopp
Severin Odermatt
Nina Renner
Nicolas Venzin
Thomas Wyssen

Herzog & de Meuron Team 2001-2004:

Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Christine Binswanger

Project Architects:

Jürgen Johner (Associate)
Ines Huber
Project Team:
Béla Berec
Giorgio Cadosch
Gilles le Coultre
Laura Mc Quary


Stiftung Museum der Kulturen & Kanton Basel-Stadt
c/o Hochbau- und Planungsamt

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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