History of the Swiss National Museum

View from the park to the National Museum Zurich © Architron
View from the park to the National Museum Zurich © Architron

Facts on the extension of the National Museum Zurich

The National Museum Zurich

The 19th century is generally regarded as the century of nations and nation states. While other countries were busily erecting memorials, monuments and institutions, though, the young federal state of Switzerland struggled with the idea of setting up a national museum.

Plans to create one met with widespread scepticism, and there were also entirely pragmatic reasons for rejecting the enterprise. The country’s neighbours already had something to put in their museums, in the form of a ducal, royal or imperial collection; Switzerland had nothing comparable. Almost every one of the 25 cantons had its own collection based on old armoury collections and cabinets of curiosities, reflecting the federal character of the young state.

It was National Council member Salomon Vögelin of Zurich who, with his motion of 9 July 1883, launched discussion on the founding of a national museum. Encouraged by the popularity of the national art exhibition organised as part of the Swiss national exhibition in Zurich, he submitted his proposal to the Federal Council.

After much wrangling over the proposed site of the Swiss National Museum, Zurich finally won through in 1891, seeing off its rivals Lucerne, Basel and Bern. The young architect Gustav Gull drew on various historicising architectural features from the late medieval period and the modern era, combining them to create a single whole. The design of the Swiss National Museum was intended to express a unity between collection, exhibition and architecture. It was also combined with a school of art, thereby satisfying a further important requirement of the era: having both institutions side by side, allowing the past to act as an example and an inspiration for the work of students.

Today, the National Museum Zurich is regarded as one of the outstanding 19th-century constructions of its type, and an architectural monument of national importance.

Shortage of space and plans for expansion

Not long after the museum was completed, it was already evident that space was in short supply. The first expansion plans were discussed in 1933-35, 1945, 1962 and 1965-1974. In 1973, the city of Zurich handed over ownership of the land and the buildings to the Confederation, together with a payment of Fr. 6 million to cover the duty of maintenance that went with them. The space problem became ever more acute over the following decades, exacerbated by the growth of the collections and also the temporary and special exhibitions that were organised in response to the changing demands of visitors. Morever, opportunities to expand the available space had been missed in the past, and the existing rooms and buildings had not been looked after properly. As a result, desperate measures were called for, and in the mid-1990s a section of the museum had to be closed.

Renovation work

Sonderheft "Sanierung Schweizerisches Landesmuseum" von TEC21
(in German)
Sonderheft "Sanierung Schweizerisches Landesmuseum" von TEC21, der Fachzeitschrift für Architektur, Ingenieurwesen und Umwelt.

The first stage will see the reopening in 2009 of the completely renovated station wing, with its prominent columned halls on the ground floor and the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) on the upper floor. Visitors to the National Museum Zurich will then be greeted by a completely redesigned permanent exhibition. The original idea of maintaining a unity between collection, exhibition and architecture, however, has proved impossible to preserve. As a result, there will not be a single, continuous permanent exhibition, but rather two exhibitions each covering an area of 1,200 m2: one on the collection and its history, and the other on the history of Switzerland. The reconfiguration of the station wing will also have a beneficial impact on the future design of the west wing. The majority of the exhibits currently displayed there will be integrated into the two new permanent exhibitions. The “emptying" of the west wing will enable this area to regain its full importance, just as architect Gustav Gull had intended, and will also give a more central role to the display collections.

The extension

The extension is planned as a place for the study collections, the library as well as temporary and special exhibitions. In contrast to Gull’s construction, it will feature more neutral exhibition rooms of different heights, which will manifest themselves in the opening up of elements old and new and in the use of ramps and staircases to connect rooms and room functions.

The partners involved in planning the annex – the architects Christ & Gantenbein, the Confederation as commissioning authority and the museum's management – agreed to rethink and rework the competition project. The building commission approved this move in May 2007. The cantonal and city building authorities in Zurich also welcomed the changes to the architects’ plans. The revised version of the project now envisages the preservation of the old buildings, including the applied art wing, in their entirety, reduces the total usable area of the new construction by one third, and opens up a line of sight between the Platzspitz park and the museum courtyard.

History of Castle de Prangins

Built in 1730 in the French style, Castle of Prangins has enjoyed a rich and varied history. Initially a seat of baronial power, it became first the place of refuge of a prince, then a boys’ boarding school and subsequently a private residence, before finally passing to the Confederation in 1975 as a gift from the cantons of Vaud and Geneva. Château de Prangins was completely restored before reopening as a museum. It opened its doors to the public in 1998, the year in which the Swiss National Museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation. The permanent exhibitions feature objects and art representing the history of Switzerland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

History of the Forum of Swiss History

Since 1995, a site once occupied by a granary and later by an arsenal has been home to the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz. Located in Schwyz, this is the central Swiss base of the Swiss National Museum, and depicts the everyday life of the Swiss Confederates, from the wars of liberation fought by the three original cantons around 1300 to the end of the ancien régime in 1800. Numerous temporary exhibitions and a diverse range of events complement the exhibition and link it to its immediate surroundings, the Swiss interior.

Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum
Landesmuseum Zürich
Museumstrasse 2
8021 Zurich

Tel.  +41 (0)44 218 65 11
Fax  +41 (0)44 211 29 49

Opening hours
Tue – Sun 10 am – 5 pm
Thu 10 am – 7 pm

Good Friday | Easter | Easter Monday
18.04. | 20.04. | 21.04.2014 open 10 am – 5 pm

28.04.2014 closed

Labour Day
01.05.2014 open 10 am – 5 pm

Ascension Day
29.05.2014 open 10 am – 5 pm

Whit Sunday | Whit Monday
08.06. | 09.06.2014 open 10 am – 5 pm

Musée national suisse
Château de Prangins
1197 Prangins

Tel. +41 (0)22 994 88 90
Fax + 41 (0)22 994 88 98

Opening hours
Tue - Sun 10 am – 5 pm

Opening hours
Printed from: http://nationalmuseum.ch/e/ueberuns/geschichte/index.php