Museum der Kulturen by Herzog & de Meuron

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.

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.

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 weighty, introverted impression of the building 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.

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.

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