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Basel | A Cave of Wonders: The Schaulager

Place: Münchenstein, Country: Switzerland
Owner: Laurenz Foundation, Münchenstein
Architectural design:
Herzog & de Meuron, Basel
Text by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit
Photos courtesy of Schaulager
For photo credits see captions

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Photo: Heinrich Helfenstein, Zürich 

A Cave of Wonders: The Schaulager by Herzog & de Meuron

When Maja Oeri, chairpreson of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, chose Schaulager as the name for the new home of the artworks belonging to the foundation’s collection, clearly expressed the real aim of this unique center, located in Basel suburb. The term could be translated in English as “viewing-warehouse”  or “exhibit-depot”, thus meaning a place where art is not simply stored but actively plays an educative, cultural and informative role.

The Hoffmann collection, composed of around 650 works by some of the most important modern and contemporary artists, from  Dalí to Klee, from Beuys to Jeff Wall, just to name a few, is usually partially displayed as loan in two museums in Basel, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst. But in late 20th century, the desire to create a new kind of art center emerged; in 1999, a specific institution, the Laurenz Foundation, was therefore created to provide the artworks a proper conservation building but also to establish an innovative research and art dissemination center.

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View of an exhibition room: “Holbein to Tillmans. Prominent Guests from the Kunstmuseum Basel”, Photo: Tom Bisig, Basel 

The Swiss practice Herzog & de Meuron was selected to design the Schaulager as a 20,000 square meters center where the Hoffman Foundation’s artworks could be stored in optimal conditions, preserved, researched, set as inspiration for artists, presented to museum professionals and students.

Since the Schaulager is a hybrid between a warehouse and an art center, it was conceived nor as a traditional art storage facility, where artworks are usually stored in small, darkened and air-conditioned rooms, neither as a museum. In the Schaulager, artworks are arranged side by side on three levels of large, high-span, spaces, stacked on one another; two other floors are used as temporary exhibition spaces. The center includes also an auditorium, administration offices, a research library, seminar rooms, workshops and technical services. The center was opened in 2003 and remodelled in 2013, with expanded areas for large artworks storage as well as for the library and the seminar rooms.

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Schaulager Basel Herzog de Meuron cross section

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Top: photo Tom Bisig, Basel; middle: cross section, © Herzog & de Meuron
bottom: two views of the exhibition “Robert Gober. Work 1976 – 2007”, photo Tom Bisig, Basel

The building designed by Herzog & de Meuron is shaped like an almost crystalline polygonal form, quite solid in its appearance but the public entrance side is bent backwards, provided of two large LED  screens and “guarded” by a small gabled-roofed house; such arrangement forms a sort of forecourt, welcoming the visitors who approach the Schaulager.

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top left: Photo Ruedi Walti, Basel; middle left: photo Detlef Schobert; right: photo john lord; bottom: photo Heinrich Helfenstein, Zürich

In order to fulfil the climatic requirements for an appropriate artworks conservation, but also to express the durability and protection connected to its function, the building walls were realised adopting a peculiar set of construction materials, providing both a high thermal inertia and a sense of strength and endurance. The Schaulager envelope was indeed made combining clay, gravel, pebbles and concrete, together with reinforced concrete and metal. Gravel, clay and pebbles were obtained from the building foundation excavation.

The wall surface was thereafter scratched to expose the aggregates, providing the building with a rough and earthy appearance. To further enhance the concept of a heavy building “looking as it if had been extruded from the ground” (from Herzog & de Meuron project description), the window openings and even the perforated-metal enclosures were designed accordingly to the geometry of the pebbles encased inside the walls.

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from top left to bottom right, photos by: Rosemary, Detlef Schobert, Detlef Schobert, Leon and Tim Snell

The full-height entrance all provides a spectacular view on all five levels of the building and allow the visitors to get a precise idea of the Schaulager’s functions as well as of its being a true “cave of wonders”.

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Photos: top, middle left and bottom by Tom Bisig, Basel; middle right by Ruedi Walti, Basel 

Photos courtesy of Schaulager 


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Schaulager
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The Schaulager near Basel is a rather unconventional art and cultural institution, housed in an iconic building designed by Herzog and the Meuron architects



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