Swiss National Museum, Zurich, Switzerland

Water levels

Client: Eidgenössisches Bundesamt für Bauten und Logistik
Architecture: Christ & Gantenbein Architekten
Period: 2007 – 2016
Surface area: 19 000m2

Whoever arrives at Zurich's main train station finds themselves steps away from one of the city’s most famous, and infamous, parks: Platzspitz. Originally a fairground and “Schützenplatz”, and later Baroque Lusthain (which played an important role in the 1883 Swiss National Exhibition) this park became Zurich’s “Needle Park” in the 1980’s, a centre of the open drug scene.

Since its 1993 rehabilitation, the park is open and accessible again. The existing structures, invaluable old trees and significant location make it an attractive open space, and an important one from the standpoint of garden preservation. With the renovation and expansion of the Swiss National Museum, its immediate exteriors have now been restored and further developed in order to create a suitable transition between high building density and a central recreational area.

Moving from the city to the park follows a sequence of different types of outdoor spaces: the museum forecourt, park entrances, the museum courtyard, the new garden courtyard and then the actual park. The new design supports the different functions of these open spaces. The relocation of the main entrance gives the museum square more central focus. This creates an urban square that radiates appropriate generosity and opens many possibilities for use. Paving, inspired by the two adjacent rivers Limmat and Sihl, defines the character of the whole area as the river pebbles included in the high-quality concrete surface, are visible. This continuous flow of consistent paving holds the different areas together visually. The tree population was increased through the planting of cherry and linden trees, now accompanied by generously curved benches.

Being directly at Zurich’s main station, these pathways and recreation areas link the park to the city to create a shaded, harmonious and atmospheric whole. The garden courtyard resulting from the addition is distinctive in its reduced design. With a few, striking elements such as the shade-giving tree group and a mirror water basin, visual relations between the Gartenhof and Park are established. Depending on the light, water reflections on the walls create a grotto impression. And the shallow water basin for children's play is atmospherically enhanced by fog rising at the touch of a button. The redesign awakened in public consciousness not only the long dormant potential in the area, but also its geological history and role as a Zurich park and public zone.