herzog & de meuron renovates and extends colmar's musée unterlinden
herzog & de meuron renovates and extends colmar's musée unterlinden
feb 06, 2016

herzog & de meuron renovates and extends colmar's musée unterlinden

herzog & de meuron renovates and extends colmar’s musée unterlinden
image © ruedi walti
all images courtesy of musée unterlinden




in 2009, swiss architects herzog & de meuron won a competition to renovate and extend colmar’s musée unterlinden in eastern france. six years later, the project is complete. housed inside a 13th century convent and a former public baths building, the international institution contains matthias grünewald’s ‘isenheim altarpiece’, and features a large collection of historical and modern artworks, alongside manufactured artifacts.

a small building referred to as ‘la maison’ sits close to the water
image © ruedi walti




herzog & de meuron’s brief was to refurbish the convent and the ancient baths and design a new building — the ‘ackerhof’ — to showcase the institution’s 20th century collection as well as temporary exhibitions. in addition, ‘place unterlinden’ and ‘place de la sinn’ form two new public squares as part of the museum complex.

the structure marks the museum’s presence on the plaza
image © ruedi walti




the façades of the ackerhof are made of hand-broken bricks, establishing a dialogue with the quarrystone and plaster of the convent on the other side of the canal, which divides the site. tall, lancet windows have been cut into the irregular walls, while the roof gables are formed from copper. another small building, referred to as ‘la maison’, sits closer to the water, marking the museum’s presence on the plaza.

view showing the orientation room in the convent and the top of the stairs leading to the underground gallery
image © ruedi walti




the project encompasses three dimensions,’ states herzog & de meuron. ‘urban development, architecture and museography. it centers on the issues of reconstruction, simulation and integration.’ read more about the project in the architects’ own words below.

a sculptural staircase leads to the lower level
image © ruedi walti




after the extension, two building complexes, physically connected by an underground gallery, face each other across unterlinden square. the medieval convent consisting of a church, a cloister, a fountain and a garden stand to one side. on the other side of the square, the new museum building mirrors the church’s volume and, together with the former municipal baths constitutes a second, enclosed court.


between the two museum complexes, unterlinden square has recovered its historical significance, recalling the times when, across from the convent, stables and farm buildings formed an ensemble known as the ‘ackerhof’. the bus stop and parking lot existing prior to the museum’s renovation have now become a new public and urban space. the sinn canal, which flows under colmar’s old town, has been reopened, becoming the central element of this new public space. close to the water, a small house marks the museum’s presence on the square: its positioning, volume and shape are those of the mill that once stood there. two windows allow passers-by to look downwards at the underground gallery connecting the two ensembles of buildings.’

lancet windows are used throughout the scheme
image © ruedi walti




we were looking for an urban configuration and architectural language that would fit into the old town and yet, upon closer inspection, appear contemporary. moved to the centre of unterlinden square, facing the canal, the entrance to the expanded museum leads to the convent, whose facade has been delicately renovated. the renovation works were carried out in close collaboration with the architects of the french national heritage department.


museological components from the recent past were removed and the spaces restored to an earlier state. we revealed original wood ceilings and reopened formerly blocked windows looking out on the cloister and the city. the church’s roof has been renovated, and a new wood floor installed in the nave. visitors walk down a new, cast concrete spiral staircase leading to the underground gallery that connects the convent with the new building.’

view of the underground gallery’s second room located under the little house
image © ruedi walti




inside, we decided to design the underground gallery and the new exhibition building (now called the ‘ackerhof’), which present the 19th- and 20th-century collections, along contemporary, abstract lines. the space on the second floor of the ackerhof is dedicated to temporary exhibitions: its gabled roof and exceptional height (11.5 meters) reflect the proportions of the dominican church standing opposite. the central space of the former municipal baths, the swimming pool (‘la piscine’), is now connected to the new exhibition spaces. it serves as a venue for concerts, conferences, celebrations and contemporary art installations. the other spaces of the former baths house the administration of the museum, a library, a café facing the new courtyard and the colmar tourist office facing unterlinden square.


the ackerhof and the small house have facades made of irregular, hand-broken bricks, entering into dialogue with the convent facades in quarrystone and plaster that were redone many times over the centuries. a few lancet windows have been cut into these brick walls; the roof gables are in copper. the new courtyard is paved in sandstone, as is unterlinden square, while the enclosing walls are made of the same brick as the new buildings.  at the heart of the courtyard, an apple grove—the ‘pomarium’—arises from a platform made of stone and brick.’

view of the modern art gallery (1930-1960) on the ground floor of the ackerhof
image © ruedi walti




in close collaboration with jean-françois chevrier and élia pijollet, as well as with the museum’s curators, the museography and the architecture were developed hand in hand. the collections comprise works of worldwide renown from the middle ages and the renaissance—most notably, the isenheim altarpiece by matthias grünewald and nicolas von hagenau (1505-1516)—as well as designs, prints and patterns for the production of textiles, photographs, paintings, sculptures, faience pieces and ethnographic objects from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a focus on local art and art history.’

view of the inaugural exhibition ‘agir, contempler’ on the second floor of the ackerhof
image © peter mikolas




from the 1960s onwards, a modern art collection was built up. as to the isenheim altarpiece, it remains in its original if more light-filled and less cluttered convent church location, although its presentation frame has been replaced by a sober steel structure. this makes the painted wood panels look more like artworks.  eleventh- to sixteenth-century paintings, sculptures, small altars and artifacts are on display on the neighboring ground floor and in the cloister. the downstairs floor presents the archaeological collections. the underground gallery consists of a succession of three very different exhibition spaces.’

view of the museum’s courtyard with the pomarium
image © ruedi walti




beginning the circuit, we have the history of the unterlinden museum, covering a section of 19th-century and early 20th-century works. the second gallery displays three of the museum’s most important pieces: located under the little house, this room represents the core of the expanded unterlinden museum, uniting the project’s three dimensions: urban development, architecture and museography.’

view of the little house on place unterlinden
image © ruedi walti




on the first and second floors, the new building represents a loose chronological sequence of the 20th-century collection. interconnected spatial units organize and structure the floor’s overall volume, rather than subdividing it: here works or groups of works are exhibited in relation to one another.


‘together with the museography for the collection of 20th-century art, the inaugural exhibition (from january to june 2016), curated by jean-françois chevrier, will serve as an outstanding example of the uses to which the newly acquired spaces can be put, while presenting an exemplary reading of specific pieces from the collection.’


herzog & de meuron, january 2016.



project info:


name: musée unterlinden, extension
location: colmar, france
inaugurated: january, 2016
client: city of colmar, france
site area: 154,839 sqf / 14,385 sqm
gross floor area: 82,882 sqf / 7,700 sqm


herzog & de meuron project team:
partners: jacques herzog, pierre de meuron, christine binswanger (partner in charge)
project team: christoph röttinger (associate, project director), christophe leblond (project manager), marco zürn (project manager)
edyta augustynowicz (digital technologies), farhad ahmad (digital technologies), aurélien caetano, delphine camus, tim culbert, arnaud delugeard, carlos higinio esteban, judith funke, daniel graignic ramiro, yann gramegna, wolfgang hardt (partner), thorsten kemper, aron lorincz (digital technologies), donald mak (associate), severin odermatt, valentin ott, alejo paillard, nathalie rinne, jordan soriot, raul torres martin (digital technologies), guy turin, paul vantieghem, maria vega lopez, caesar zumthor
museography: jean-françois chevrier, art historian, assisted by élia pijollet, paris, france


partner architect: DeA architectes
structural engineering: ARTELIA
acoustics: echologos
cost consultant: C2Bi


façade engineering: PPengineering, basel, switzerland prof. jäger, dresden, germany
lighting consultant: arup, london, UK
signage: NEWID, basel, switzerland
landscape consultant: cap vert ingénierie, grenoble
tree consultant: august künzel landschaftsarchitekten, basel, switzerland

  • The lights suspended over the stairway were designed with Artemide.

    Eileen Wolter says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

architecture news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
504,204 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample
designboom magazine