Landesmuseum, Swiss National Museum, Extension, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Five brilliant Brutalism-inspired, contemporary museum buildings in Switzerland to visit right now

In Zurich, Basel, Lausanne and Ticino
Karin Bürki

Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

If your heart beats for contemporary art and raw concrete-based architecture, Switzerland is your dream destination. Many museums offer both world-class art and cutting-edge architecture by leading contemporary practices. I have picked five of the very best from all corners of the country to include in your next city trip or cultural tour. Happy exploring.

Swiss National Museum Extension, Zurich

Landesmuseum, Swiss National Museum, Extension, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Landesmuseum, Swiss National Museum, Extension, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

For their extension building architects Christ & Gantenbein held not back on the concrete. In fact, the new wing, opened in July 2016, presents itself as an enigmatic concrete sculpture in the shape of abstract, pebble-coloured city cliffs. The massive triangular elements connect directly to the original 19th century historicist castle and snake along a new courtyard, Platzspitz park and the river Limmat. The most spectacular views are undoubtedly enjoyed from the monumental staircase in the dramatically rearing “bridge” section. Various portholes open up exciting new views on the old building, courtyard, park and the river. Otherwise, the extension is largely windowless.

The 19th-century castle and the 21st-century sculpture may at first glance share little in common. But look at the new wing’s bespoke tuff concrete skin, polished concrete palazzo floors and massive build – they are all contemporary takes on characteristic features of the original building. Zurich’s new architectural landmark right across the main station features large exhibition spaces, an auditorium for public events and a library.

Museo La Congiunta, Giornico TI

Museo La Congiunta, Giornico, Hans Märkli, Hans Josephsohn, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Museo La Congiunta, Giornico, Hans Märkli, Hans Josephsohn, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Here’s an idea for a journey to La Congiunta, one of Switzerland’s most radical and archaic art museums. It is dedicated to the Swiss sculptor Hans Josephsohn whose reliefs and half-figures have found the perfect match in in Peter Märkli’s pared-down exposed-concrete shelter. It is in Giornico, a picturesque village northern Ticino, midway between Bellinzona and Airolo. La Congiunta enjoys cult status among art and architecture aficionados. Much of it is also down to its unique access system and “only in Switzerland” factor: you simply pick up the key in the osteria next to the bus stop in the centre of Giornico. Walk to the edge of the village and cross the roman bridge over the river Ticino. You’ll have no troubles spotting the béton brut monolith. In the ascetic interior Josephson’s reliefs and sculptures stand in rows, staring stoically at the concrete walls, or each other. There is plenty of air and light and not much else. Where does the sculpture end and the architecture begin? Märkli described his project as a “radical architectural meditation”. Add to this the wildly romantic scenery of the Leventine valley and your mind will go zen in no time.

Museum of Fine Arts, Chur

Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur, Barozzi/Veiga, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur Extension, Barozzi Veiga, Chur, Canton of Grisons 2014-2016, Brutalism © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

The giant off-white cube in the centre of Chur adjoins Villa Planta, the splendidly ornamental 18th-century home to the original art museum. The 2016 extension acts as a contemporary take on the villa’s Palladian pomp – with all superfluous elements stringently stripped down. The facade’s characteristic inset relief panels comprise 4,600 square blocks of moulded concrete. The purist theme continues Inside, where you can enjoy contemporary art exhibitions and, at afternoon-tea time, elderly ladies in shocking pink. The minimalist cube by Barcelona-based Barozzi/Veiga won the RIBA Award for International Excellence 2018.

Plateforme 10, Lausanne

MCBA, Lausanne, Barozzi/Veiga, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Mudac, Musée de l'Élysée, Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, Lausanne, Plateforme 10, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

The future starts right next to Lausanne train station and it comes in the shape of an audacious building in greige industrial brick. Its boldness and sculptural form recalls early brutalist oeuvres and it is certainly as photogenic. The ambitious building by – again – Barozzi/Veiga is the new home to the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts and it clearly wants to be seen: inaugurated in 2019, the MCBA seeks to put Lausanne firmly on the national art map. Apart from running regular exhibitions, the museum also houses a permanent presentation that highlights gems from the Vaud art collections ranging from the 18th century to the present day. Entrance is free for the latter.

As of June 2022 the MCBA will be joint by the Musée de l’Elysée (the canton’s photography museum) and mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts). Both museums share a modernist-inspired concrete cube designed by the Portuguese architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus. A striking window ribbon slashes the building, visualising the level where the two museums join. The three spaces will form Plateforme 10, a new arts district and cool urban hotspot to meet, eat and relax.

Schaulager, Münchenstein/Basel

Laurenz Stiftung Schaulager, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Laurenz Stiftung Schaulager, Herzog & de Meuron, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

It immediately catches the eye: the small gatehouse with the gable roof and the massive, clay-coloured, earth concrete façade made of pebbles excavated on site. It seems like a kind of cute counterpart to the massive, polygonal Schaulager rising behind it. The 50-centimetre-thick walls and the futuristic appearance are not, however, an eccentric idea by Herzog & de Meuron. Rather, the design serves as a pragmatic response to the shape of the site and the idea of Schaulager as a warehouse, exhibition venue and research centre for high-end art from the 20th and 21st centuries.

The building heralded the transformation of the Dreispitz site in 2003. Today the former industrial area on the outskirts of Basel has become a vibrant hotspot for education, art and creative industries – with exciting architecture to boot. The Academy for Art and Design and the House of Electronic Arts are in the immediate vicinity. In 2023 Kunsthaus Baselland will also be moving into the booming district. By the way: Schaulager is also a pioneer when it comes to renewable energies: a photovoltaic unit was installed on the rooftop in 2015.

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