Zentrum Paul Klee
Monument im Fruchtland 3
3000 Bern 31
Renzo Piano, 2005
Paul Klee, one of the most celebrated artists of the last century, spent his childhood and his last years in Bern. Subsequently, his heirs decided to donate and loan some 4,000 pieces of the artist’s work to the city in 1997. In order to house the artwork, Renzo Piano was commissioned to design this $86 million building. The vision was not to build a museum, but a place to be, in Piano’s words, “the leading centre of competence worldwide for research into and the mediation and presentation of Paul Klee... a platform for interdisciplinary forms of artistic expression”.
According to Piano’s interpretation, Paul Klee is an artist characterized by the silence in this work. Taking inspiration from the silence of water and responding to the gently sloping site, the result is this bold wave-form structure. One cannot be mistaken for the building’s profile - the bent steel subtly driving in and out of the ground, not intrusive but forming part of the landscape, establishing a clear relationship with the Alps in the background. (While the wave form is distinctive to this building, the form of the museum as a set of parallel, single-story shafts is a Piano signature, seen also in the earlier Beyeler Foundation in nearby Basel, and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.)
The “waves” enclose 3 large volumes - the main hall, one of the exhibition halls and a library space; on the underground level is the other exhibition hall, the art education studios, the offices as well as an auditorium – totalling a floor area of 15,000 sq m.
Circulation is organized along the main façade; as a result one experiences the vibrancy of the building as the height and width of the space constantly changes as one travels. The façade is heavily glazed allowing ample light to flood the halls, while the blinds on the external façade control the light when necessary.
At night, the building glows in this site next to the motorway proclaiming its presence. The back of the building however, is cut off from sunlight due to the light sensitive nature of the artwork. Skylights have been installed where possible, and other parts some green roofing is used.
The building is arguably less “silent” that it is anticipated to be. Nonetheless there is a sensitive balance between the two objectives the building is to achieve – one being the statement a city icon has to make; the other being the quietness the architecture has to represent. No doubt the building integrates into the landscape beautifully; the elegant wave form and how it relates the interior to the exterior make this a delightful piece of architecture.
Calvin Hui 2007
How to visit
The bus number 12 runs frequently from the Bern train station. It takes 15minutes to reach the last stop, where the museum is clearly visible on the opposite side of the road. All parts of the building can be accessed by the public subject to an entrance fee.
The building opens from 9am to 6pm, but the exhibition halls are only opened 10am to 5pm. For more information and directions, visit the museum's web site at
The Switzerland tourism offices produced an exceptionally good architecture travel guide which can be sent to you free of charge upon request, at