“Archaic, but contemporary”: The Fondation Beyeler on why Peter Zumthor is right for the museum's expansion

Last month, Peter Zumthor unveiled his winning scheme for the expansion of the Renzo Piano-designed Fondation Beyeler museum in Riehen, near Basel.1

Inaugurated 20 years ago by Mr. Beyeler (13 years before his death), the foundation is based in an airy glass-fronted building by Renzo Piano, the Pritzker Prize winning Italian architect. That edifice is now getting a three-part extension designed by Peter Zumthor, a Pritzker winner from Basel.

The extension is needed because the original Piano building lacks education and events spaces and room to show the Beyeler’s expanding collection. Still, the museum is careful not to let the art be overtaken by everything else.


As the architect of the new Beyeler, Mr. Zumthor (who was picked from a pool of 11 international architecture firms) could not be more different from Mr. Piano. Somewhat reclusive, he is known for producing austere, meditative buildings and often works with concrete.

The Zumthor extension will have three parts: a main building for art display, with three floors and windows overlooking the park; a small side building for offices; and a multipurpose garden pavilion that’s an open-access public space by day and by night can be turned into an auditorium, dining hall, concert hall or event site.

The budget for the extension is roughly 100 million Swiss francs ($104 million). Half of that will cover land and construction expenses, and the other half — unusually — will pay for operational and maintenance costs in the first 10 to 15 years.


Mr. Zumthor said he had been asked by Mr. Beyeler, shortly before his death, “whether I would do something for him in the back” of the Beyeler. The architect added that he was personally fond of the museum, because it was “friendly to the people — not a castle.”

Mr. Keller said Mr. Zumthor was a good fit. He said the architect knows the town, the museum and its surroundings very well; he understands and cares about art, and he has a very close relationship to nature.


“Zumthor has this archaic way of looking at architecture, but in a very contemporary way: his buildings are very durable,” Mr. Keller said. “They are a little out of time and fashion, and we liked that.”

Theodora Vischer, senior curator at the Beyeler, said she was pleased that Mr. Zumthor had decided to design three smaller buildings and not one giant one.

“The Beyeler is not a big building at the moment, and it will not become huge,” she said. “The new program will be an enlargement of the existing. It will not be a doubling of it.”