Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland – design: Bjarke Ingels Group

Route de France 18, Le Brassus
Canton Vaud, Switzerland
closed on: open Monday to Friday, pre-booking required
Museum Type: Decorative arts / Handicraft
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, Bjarke Ingels Group 01

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus – Switzerland 
design: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is a watchmaking museum in the village of Le Brassus, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, housed in an iconic spiral-shaped building designed by the Danish architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.

Cover image: a view of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet with the new building designed by BIG-BJake Ingels Group on the left and the company’s historic building, dating back to 1868,  on the right. Photo © Iwan Baan.

Located not far from the Lac du Joux lakeside and surrounded by the magnificent natural scenery of the Vallée de Joux, the museum is owned by Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet and presents the history of the company from its foundation to the present day in the context of the 200-year-long watchmaking tradition of the valley. The new museum is adjacent to the historical house where Audemars Piguet started its activity in 1875, known as Maisons des Fondateurs (Founders’ House).

The peculiar shape and the materials – glass, steel, brass, terrazzo, and natural stone – of BIG’s building are inspired by the “architecture of watches” as Bjarke Ingels states: “Watchmaking like architecture is the art and science of imbuing metals and minerals with energy, movement, intelligence, and measure to bring them to life in the form of telling time.”

Quite unconventionally, the grass-covered spiraling roof of the building is supported by 108 curved glass panels, up to 12 centimeters / 4.72 inches thick; a brass mesh sunscreen runs along the external glass surface to regulate the amount of daylight inside the museum.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, Bjarke Ingels Group, aerial view

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, BIG, aerial view

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, Bjarke Ingels Group 2

Exterior and aerial views of the museum. Photos © Iwan Baan, courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group.

Permanent exhibition
Designed by scenographer Atelier Brückner, the permanent exhibition of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet presents about 300 timepieces – mostly wristwatches, pocket watches, and chiming watches – many of which are extremely rare and complicated.
The second section of the exhibition is dedicated to Audemars Piguet’s watch design from the Belle Epoque to the present.
Finally, a third gallery called The Atelier illustrates the manufacturing techniques, craft skills, and decorative abilities required to produce the high-end luxury timepieces of the Swiss company.

The visit follows a double-helix path that begins from space dedicated to the origins of the watchmaking industry in the Joux Valley, converges to a center point in which the spectacular “grand complication” watches for which Audemars Piguet is world-renowned are presented, and then turns back towards the entrance hall and passing through the galleries dedicated to timepiece design and manufacturing following a second “centrifugal” spiral path. BIG arguably choose this spatial scheme, rather unconventional for a museum, to symbolize the circularity of time, as well as to visually evoke the shape of the spiral torsion spring of a mechanical watch.

Along with the permanent exhibition galleries, the museum complex also contains a small cinema, a temporary exhibition gallery, and a space for exhibitions of contemporary art.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, BIG, permanent exhibition gallery 3

The central gallery of the permanent exhibition features a selection of Audemars Piguet’s “grand complication” watches;  Photo © Iwan Baan, courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, BIG, Ateliers

View of the  “Metier d’Art” Workshop, where the public can see Audemars Piguet’s watchmakers in action and experiment with some of the Swiss brand’s traditional watchmaking techniques.

Audemars Piguet Museum and Ateliers – project description
(published in 2016)

Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet chooses BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group to expand its historic headquarters. The 2.400 sqm pavilion will be a striking landmark to precision seamlessly integrated into the local landscape.
Surrounded by the historical workshops in Le Brassus in the heart of La Vallée de Joux, the new museum called Maison des Fondateurs will be embedded in the landscape – reuniting the buildings with the undulating fields of the valley.
BIG created an intertwined spiral-shaped pavilion which is conceived as a storyline for the visitors – blending old and new – and guiding the visitor through a linear sequence of spaces and events, from the entrance through lounges, galleries, and workshops, to the attic of the heritage building in the workshop where it all began.

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Bjarke Ingels – Founding Partner BIG – says: “Watchmaking like architecture is the art and science of invigorating inanimate matter with intelligence and performance. It is the art of imbuing metals and minerals with energy, movement, intelligence, and measure – to bring it to life in the form of telling time. Unlike most machines and most buildings today that have a disconnect between the body and the mind, the hardware and the software, for the Maison des Fondateurs we have attempted to completely integrate the geometry and the performance, the form, and the function, the space and the structure, the interior and the exterior in a symbiotic hole”.

The intertwined spirals solve one of the dilemmas of the program. The narrative structure calls for a succession of galleries and workshops, while the logistics of operations require the workshops to be interconnected. By coiling up the sequence of spaces in a double spiral, the three workshops find themselves in immediate adjacency – forming one continuous workspace – surrounded by galleries.
The roof and ceiling of the pavilion are conceived as a single sheet of metal – a steel structure clad in brass, continuous in the plan but undulating in sections to create a series of openings allowing daylight and views of the exhibits. Towards the end of the visit, the double spiral intersects the existing museum building providing access to the vaulted spaces on the lower floor and to the attic. The dynamic forms of modern materials, concrete, and brass give way to a locally anchored tectonic of straight lines and warm surfaces of wood or stone. Heavy meets light. Soft meets hard. Warm meets cool.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, Bjarke Ingels Group 3

A Bird’s eye view of the museum complex. Photo © Iwan Baan.

 BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group is a Copenhagen and New York-based group of architects, designers, and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research, and development. BIG is led by eight partners – Bjarke Ingels, Andreas Klok Pedersen, Finn Nørkjær, David Zahle, Jakob Lange, Thomas Christoffersen and Managing Partners, Sheela Maini Søgaard and Kai-Uwe Bergmann. With an international team of more than 200 people, BIG works on projects across a broad spectrum of industries and in more than 20 countries worldwide.

big - museum piguet 01

Audemars Piguet is the oldest fine watchmaking manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families (Audemars and Piguet). Since 1875, the company has written some of the finest chapters in the history of Haute Horlogerie, including a number of world firsts. In the Vallée de Joux, at the heart of the Swiss Jura, numerous masterpieces are created in limited series embodying a remarkable degree of horological perfection, including daring sporty models, classic and traditional timepieces, splendid ladies’ jewelry-watches, as well as one-of-a-kind creations. The famous 1972 octagonal Royal Oak, the first luxury watch to be made of stainless steel, is widely recognized as one of the most important innovations in watchmaking.

The new building of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, designed by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, with the historic “Maison des Fondateurs” in the background; photo © Iwan Baan.

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