Christ & Gantenbein construct a contemporary ruin in Basel

The frieze announces the exhibition programme thanks to a special arrangement of LED lights within the bricks. Photo Julian Salinas/Kuntsmuseum Basel

Designed by Basel-based firm Christ & Gantenbein, the extension to the Kunstmuseum Basel, dedicated to art from 1950 to 1990, opened last April. The historical main building across the street, dating from 1936 and recently renovated, had become too small for its collection of 300,000 objects covering seven centuries, even with its contemporary art department in the neighbourhood.

Photo Julian Salinas/Kunstmuseum Basel

The new 2555-sq-m extension has been built in the heart of the city, on a square in the middle of the traffic, just across a busy bridge. The location needed a strong architectural answer and an evident signal. The irregular massive polygon of the new structure imparts a lively movement within its surroundings, especially with its inverted corner entrance turning the intersection into its own forecourt. The understated use of grey brick refers to ‘an archaic-looking masonry’, the architects say, turning the building into a sort of contemporary ‘ruin’. The frieze on the top announces the exhibition programme thanks to a special arrangement of LED lights within the bricks, turning it into a marquee.

Inside, the three floors and two basements are connected vertically by the central, monumental staircase reminiscent of the one in the historical building. Load-bearing walls separate the exhibition spaces – there are no movable partitions – and the few windows frame the view into the city. The artificial lighting with standard light tubes has become an integral part of the interior architecture. Another distinctive feature is the basement passage to the historical building, designed as a real exhibition space and a foyer.

The new massive extension looks like an autonomous structure, but its soberness highlights the historical museum.

Photos courtesy of Christ & Gantenbein/Kunstmuseum Basel

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