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Story - Zentrum Paul Klee
Bern, Switzerland, 1999/2005
The Zentrum Paul Klee, located near the city of Bern, is home to nearly 40% of the artist’s entire collection, for a total of more than 4,000 works; it's one of the world’s largest monographic collections.
The idea for the museum’s creation was linked to a complex situation that began with the death of Klee’s only son, Felix, in 1990. His estate was divided between Felix’s widow, Livia Klee-Meyer, and his son Alexander. From 1997 to 1998, the family donated much of the collection that it had inherited to Bern’s Kunstmuseum and Canton, on the condition that a museum be constructed to house Klee’s artworks.
At the same time, the Paul Klee Foundation donated an additional 2,600 works by the artist.
In July of 1998, Maurice E. Müller and his wife Martha decided to donate 30 million Swiss francs to cover the costs of the project, along with a plot of land on the eastern outskirts of the city.
In December of 1998, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop was placed in charge of the project.
The client’s aim was to create a cultural centre that would reflect the complex and interdisciplinary nature of the artist, who was also a musician, writer and teacher.
In fact, the exhibition program includes temporary exhibitions, theatre performances, concerts and lectures, as well as a children’s workshop.
It’s an exhibition space of over 4,000 square metres, divided into three pavilions, each of which houses the works that characterize the various stages of the artist's professional career; there’s even an auditorium, various meeting rooms and interactive areas for children.
It was a hilly site of about 2.5 hectares, located in the city’s eastern Schöngrün quarter: the building was conceived as a corrugation of the land itself: a structure that rises above, and then falls back into the ground.
Everything depends on the relationship between the land and nature. In Renzo Piano’s own words: “The wheat field arises and integrates itself, becoming one with the building.” The design of the surrounding area also took shape immediately, with the design of an external walkway approaching the building.
The external shape of the roof is the only part of the museum that emerges and can be seen upon the landscape, because the entire structure is built below this wooden shell and is cut in a crosswise fashion by transparent glass sections, behind which can be found the areas accessible to the public. The exhibition rooms are situated below ground level.
The largest pavilion to the north measures 70x75 metres, is 21 metres high and occupies an area of 5,250 square metres, while the central building measures 55x70 metres, is 14 metres high and covers an area of 3,850 square metres. The smallest pavilion to the south, on the other hand, measures 40x60 metres, is 12 metres high and occupies a total area of 2,400 square metres.
The roof’s geometry is so complex that each individual metre of the steel girders’ 4.2 kilometres is rendered unique. Each series of steel arches is also slightly inclined at a different angle.
The individual sections were obtained from enormous steel plates, which were cut using high-precision computerized instrumentation and then welded together by hand. The curvature of the steel girders, in fact, made machine welding impossible, thus requiring the structure’s entire length of more than 40 km to be welded by hand.
One consequence of the building’s geometry is the complex structural design of the 150-metre glass façade. Being 19 metres tall at its highest points, the façade is made up of a series glass plates, the largest elements of which measure 600 x 160 cm and weigh up to 500 kg each.
From the beginning, one major issue was that of creating a luminous environment without the possibility of using natural lighting.
The light intensity had to be maintained between 50 and 100 lux due to the types of artworks that would be present (watercolours, drawings, etc.), which are traditionally more fragile than oil paintings and cannot withstand greater light intensities. The artworks would also be extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, and therefore the climatic data also had to be constantly monitored. These values became the basis for another extremely important aspect of the design: in fact, a series of measures were taken in order to maintain the lowest possible levels of energy consumption. The exceptional insulation of the roof, ceilings and floors minimizes heat loss while a sophisticated system of external shades protected against the intense light and heat of the summer months.
The three hills are flanked by a covered walkway, known as “the museum path”, which has been designed as a place for meeting and for exchanging information, and even serves as link between the exhibition spaces and the educational areas.
The Zentrum Paul Klee was inaugurated on June 20th, 2005.
Fondazione Renzo Piano Via Pier Paolo Rubens 30a 16158 Genova Italia CF95086900107 P.IVA 02089770990