In 1952 the Rietberg Museum for non-European art moved into Villa Wesendonck, situated in Rieterpark, one of Zurich’s most beautiful parks. The villa, built in 1857 by Leonhard Zeugheer, is famed as one of the key examples of late Neoclassical architecture in Zurich. The new extension project was driven by the museum’s growing need for more space even after the museum expanded in 1978 to incorporate the adjacent Villa Schönberg (Alfred Friedrich Bluntschli, 1888), which in the meantime has been restored by Arthur Rüegg and Silvio Schmed.
The design is based on a three-story cube, which rises up from a subterranean rhizome-like connecting building. An ensemble is generated by introducing the extension building alongside the two existing structures - Villa Wesendonck and its former services building - creating a new and adequate presence for the museum institution. The extension welcomes visitors from the street side, while receding into the background when viewed from the park. The appearance of the historical park is thus scarcely altered.
On the ground floor the new building houses the ticket desk and museum shop, along with a multimedia room, which is conceived as a flexible spatial enclosure with sliding dividing walls. The new permanent exhibition is located on the two upper floors. Generously proportioned stairways and an underground hallway connecting the two buildings provide access to the area for temporary exhibitions.
This is designed as a flexible space for varied exhibition options and is artificially lit. In the new rooms for the permanent collection by contrast, natural light enters from above through skylights on the third level and on both floors through side windows that also offer vistas of the surroundings. The ceiling construction spans the entire space, allowing flexible uses of these rooms as well.
Above ground, the extension is clad with prefabricated concrete/glass-brick elements. Supplementing the windows, they also function as a source of diffuse natural light. The exterior of the building displays a subtle iridescent sheen, created by mixing quartz sand into the concrete and sand-blasting the cladding panels.
The design envisages just one simple change to Villa Wesendonck: a new stairway leads from the underground level directly into the villa’s existing staircase.