This building is the most recent extension of the Kunstmuseum Basel and opened in 2016. It owes its existence to the fact that neither the main building nor the Kunstmuseum This building is the most recent extension of the Kunstmuseum Basel and opened in 2016. It owes its existence to the fact that neither the main building nor the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart was conceived to deal with continually changing exhibitions. Historically, the Kunstmuseum Basel had been intended exclusively, with occasional exceptions, to house and present its collection. Only in 2002 did the museum begin to organize several big special exhibitions every year. Because this was unforeseen, the appropriate infrastructure was lacking. Modernization in the 1990s and renovation in the 2000s brought some improvements but could not solve the underlying problem: time and again, entire sections of the collection had to be rehung or put in storage to make room for special exhibitions.
In 2008 Maja Oeri, Hon. PhD, donated to the canton of Basel-Stadt the funds to purchase a plot of land on Dufourstrasse opposite the main building. This created a unique opportunity to tackle the question of a museum extension. But how could the main building and the new building be connected across a busy city street? An architectural competition was launched to explore, among other things, methods of linking the main building and the new building via a subterranean area. Leading international architects, including Peter Zumthor, SANAA, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel, took part in the competition. The commission was finally awarded to the Basel architectural practice of Christ & Gantenbein — in particular as their proposal neatly exploited the urban situation in the St. Alban district in favor of the new museum building and developed a convincing concept for giving the connecting area between the new building and the main building access to daylight via a small, lowered courtyard. This upgraded the underground area. No longer was it a mere tunnel but a set of versatile spaces that could be used for exhibitions and other events. Thanks to the Laurenz Foundation, which generously elected to bear half of the construction costs, the canton of Basel-Stadt was able to realize the project in a relatively short span of time, from 2010 to 2016.
Many elements of the new building draw on the architectural language of the main building of 1936. This is particularly evident in the monumental stairway with its circular skylight, the rough plaster wall finish of connecting areas such as the foyer and stairways, as well as in the chromatic properties of the brick facade, and the high level of attention to detail. Emmanuel Christ states, “We sought this relationship. We assumed from the start that an extension need not formulate an entirely new position. The Kunstmuseum Basel already has its own distinct identity. When the extension goes up across the street there is no need for its identity to be reinvented, rather it should receive, as it were, a contemporary reinterpretation.” Despite its references to the main building, the new building is a work in its own right with a decidedly contemporary architectural language. The ground plan and its wealth of angles are answered in the upper stories by a classical organization of space and exhibition rooms of rectangular proportions. The scale of the monumental, five-meter- high rooms in the basement and on the ground floor is particularly impressive. The new building fits harmoniously into the heterogeneous St. Alban district on the edge of the old town and, thanks to the LED frieze embedded between the elements of its facade, literally beams out at the city.