Revamped Aargau museum cast in new light

Architect Jacques Herzog in front of the museum in canton Aargau Keystone

Canton Aargau's fine arts museum has reopened after two years of construction work, giving more space and light to its impressive permanent collection.

This content was published on October 16, 2003 - 11:57

Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, the “new look” museum in the cantonal capital, Aarau, cost around SFr17 million ($12.76 million).

The art collection already has a reputation out of proportion to a town of fewer than 16,000 inhabitants.

Built up over 140 years, it represents just about every art movement since the collection was started.

The original building had been widely admired since its completion in 1959. But it was too small.

“Until now a large part of the collection had to be stored,” museum director Beat Wismer told swissinfo.

“However a museum is not an archive. What is collected must also be shown in the best possible conditions of space and light.”

The museum now has twice as much space and much better artificial and natural light.

Architect Jacques Herzog, whose team collaborated with artist Rémy Zaugg on the project, said the spatial element was a key factor when plans were drawn up.

“But we also wanted to preserve the integrity of the original building, which provided the ingredients to make the best ‘meal’ possible,” he said.

Basel-based Herzog and de Meuron designed the Tate Modern gallery in London, and have also won the contract to build the Olympic stadium for the 2008 games in Beijing.

Old and the new

Wismer said he was delighted with the result: “I have huge admiration for the architects, and for their respect for the beautiful old building.

“It had become out of date, but they recognised its quality and used this as the basis for our ‘new’ museum.”

The first sight to greet visitors is an open entrance hall flooded with light and a new spiral staircase – behind green glass – leading up to a roof garden planted with grass.

This hall is an ideal introduction to the exhibition space, which has been doubled in size to over 6,000 square metres.

Bathed in light, these rooms take the visitor via connecting open doorways past paintings and sculptures by such celebrated Swiss artists as Alberto Giacometti, Ferdinand Hodler, Albert Anker and Sophie Taeuber-Arp – plus non-Swiss and contemporary artists.

“The new museum lends a spiritual aura to the region as a cultural capital,” said Rainer Huber, Aargau's chairman of culture.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson in Aarau

In brief

Canton Aargau’s art collection began 140 years ago.

The museum was built in 1959 in the cantonal capital, Aarau, which has fewer than 16,000 inhabitants.

By the 1980s it was considered too small for the growing collection, much of which had to be put in storage.

Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron won a competition to design extension work and an annexe.

The cost of construction work was met by the canton, the town of Aarau, the cantonal bank and local benefactors.

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