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Museum für Gestaltung · Zurich, Switzerland

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Le Corbusier, Max Bill, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Trix and Robert Haussmann—from Modernist furniture to experimental typefaces, Switzerland’s design legacy is world-class, and ever evolving. There’s no better place to delve deep into its trajectory than the collections of Zurich’s Museum für Gestaltung, the four collections of which comprise half a million objects.

Supplemented by a host of international temporary shows, events, and excursions, they provide a rich and extensive overview of the seminal movements of 20th and 21st century design, both in Switzerland and beyond. A short tram ride away from the museum’s archives in the Toni-Areal, its second building—a newly-restored Modernist masterpiece on Ausstellungsstrasse—offers further exhibitions, including 2000 of the collection’s highlights, which are grouped thematically and presented in a newly-configured permanent exhibition. Upstairs, the ‘Swiss Design Lounge’ showroom invites visitors to experience the highlights of the country’s design legacy for themselves. And down at the shores of Lake Zurich, Pavillon Le Corbusier—restored to its original splendor and reopened to the public in 2019—awaits exploration as the Museum’s third element.

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The origins of Zurich’s Museum für Gestaltung can be traced back to 1875, when its collection was established under what was then the city’s Arts and Crafts Museum. When the associated Arts and Crafts School of Zurich opened three years later, it was made available to students as a living, growing resource archive. Over the centuries since, the institution evolved to become Zurich’s museum for design and visual communication, the leading institution of its kind in Switzerland, with 500,000 objects across four collections: Poster, Graphics, Design, and Applied Art. In 2014, the archives of all four were brought together under one roof in the Toni-Areal, formerly one of Europe’s biggest milk factories, and today is home to a cluster of creative institutions and enterprises, including Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)—whose students enjoy unrivalled access to the museum’s archive.

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It’s not only students who can get up close with the collection at the so-called Schaudepot, however. Tours of the archive’s storage spaces—covering 3,700 square meters, the equivalent of half a football field—are offered regularly to the public, guided by an expert member of the team—archivists, curators or documentarians, for example—to share a rare insight into the collection, as well as the archiving and storage processes of the world-renowned collections. 110,000 of them are categorized on a digital database, though there’s nothing quite like a tangible glimpse into the archive: Starting with the Poster Collection, which comprises 350,000 posters from Switzerland, Europe, and the world, covering tourism, consumer, political, and event poster design.

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The Graphics Collection captures the changes in printed matter, typography, graphic design, and information design from the late 19th century to today. A notable highlight is the original designs for the sans-serif ‘Univers’ typeface, designed by Adrian Frutiger in the very building its development is preserved in, alongside the type designer’s entire working archive. Next door is the storeroom for the Arts and Crafts Collection, which is as old as the museum itself, and focuses on handicrafts from the 18th and 19th centuries—including furniture by the likes of Belgian designer Henry van de Velde, and a cabinet that was created as a student project by the renowned Zurich designer Max Bill. Glass, ceramic, and textile art complete the collection, parts of which are occasionally lent out to museums around the world.

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The Design Collection, which began in 1987, focuses on the development of industrial design from Switzerland, supplemented with references from across Scandinavia, Italy, and the United States. Just as valuable as the finished objects—ranging from teaspoons to typewriters to experimental furniture pieces—are their prototypes, which provide a rare look into the research and development processes behind iconic objects. Like former versions of the classic plastic Scobalit chair by Swiss designer Willy Guhl, who was also the founder of the first product design course at Zurich’s former Academy of Arts. With a potentially endless supply of consumer goods to collect, not everything makes the cut into the museum’s meticulously-organized and recorded shelves. Only objects that mark a significant development or contribution to the evolution of design throughout the decades are added, either sought out and purchased by the collection’s curator, or donated by private collectors. Since 1989, the Federal Office of Culture has contributed funding for the acquisition of objects by living Swiss designers—like Trix and Robert Haussmann, who fitted out the interior of Zurich’s opulent Kronenhalle Bar.

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The archival tour provides an excellent teaser for the museum’s exhibitions—both the experimental and contemporary temporary exhibitions at the Toni-Areal, or a short tram ride away at the museum’s second location on Ausstellungsstrasse. The listed building, one of the foremost examples of the Swiss Modernist architecture movement Neues Bauen, with its clean lines and steel-framed windows, was designed by Zurich architects Adolf Steger und Karl Egender, and opened in 1933. In 2018, following a three-year renovation process, the building reopened with a selection of permanent and temporary exhibitions. Ideales Wohnen (Ideal Living) journeys through 20th century Swiss design, with a focus on furniture and interiors. The Collection Highlights serve as a cabinet of curiosities for a special selection of objects which, through their unexpected placement, shed new light on the icons of 20th and 21st century Swiss art, design, and daily life. On the top floor, an eclectic array of classic Swiss design icons—like the DS-22 Sofa, the Péclard Stool, and the Riviera Table—offers visitors the opportunity to lean back into the heritage at their own leisure.

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ADDRESS
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Main building
Ausstellungsstrasse 60
8005 Zurich, Switzerland

OPENING HOURS
Tues – Sun: 10:00 – 17:00
Wed: 10:00 – 20:00

CONTACT
Tel: +41 43 446 67 67
Website

 

ADDRESS
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Toni-Areal
Pfingstweidstrasse 96
8005 Zurich, Switzerland

OPENING HOURS
Tues – Sun: 10:00 – 17:00
Wed: 10:00 – 20:00

CONTACT
Tel: +41 43 446 67 67
Website

 

ADDRESS
Pavillon Le Corbusier
Höschgasse 8
8008 Zurich, Switzerland

OPENING HOURS
May – November
Tues – Sun: 12:00 – 18:00
Thu: 12:00 – 20:00

CONTACT
Tel: +41 43 446 44 68
Website

 

This story is the eleventh in a 12-part travel guide to Zurich,
created in collaboration with Zürich Tourism.
Follow the series and discover the city here.

All images and videos © Franz Grünewald  for IGNANT Production