The Open Collections space of the Zurich Design Museum

Zurich (CH)

“Place of power”, “cultural hybrid”, “art factory” – the headlines alone for the opening of the Toni-Areal in Zurich show that this extraordinary project stimulates the imagination. For almost ten years, the architectural firm EM2N has been rebuilding and expanding the huge building complex, which was once a dairy processing plant, for its new purposes. In addition to the Zurich University of the Arts and two departments of the University of Applied Sciences, the renowned Museum of Design and its “Exhibition Depot” relocated here in September 2014.


Even though everything revolves around creativity in the rooms where cheese, butter and yogurt were once produced, preserving the industrial character of the complex was important to the Zurich architects. Today, nearly 5,000 people study and work here. The over 100,000 square meters are used in countless ways that directly or indirectly serve university operations, including lecture and concert halls, rehearsal rooms, studios, workshops, film and recording studios, a movie theater and cafés; 100 apartments are also part of the ensemble.

Living and learning, collecting and exhibiting

The Museum of Design, steeped in tradition, whose original 1930s building by architects Steger and Egender is currently closed for remodeling and renovations, has also found a home here and experienced a true quantum leap of options following the move: for the first time in the museum’s nearly 140-year history, it has been able to bring the extensive archives collection – formerly scattered throughout the city – together in one place and make it accessible to visitors. Overall, nearly half a million design objects – including chairs, lamps and cabinets, as well as ceramics and posters – were carefully transported to the Toni-Areal building complex over a period of nine months and can now be viewed in a free-standing, accessible high-bay warehouse.

In addition to the huge depot, the museum now features three new exhibition halls, a museum shop and the required management areas. 

Zurich architects Petra Hemmi and Serge Fayet gave the museum’s rooms in the Toni-Areal building complex their organizational and creative finishing touches in keeping with the overall concept of EM2N. A number of technical issues also had to be taken into consideration for the sensitive exhibit items. The depot rooms require flexible lighting as well as an indoor climate that is stable but that can also be modified depending on the use of the space; the objects themselves require safe storage. In addition, special fire protection requirements are in place. The good news is that this unique Exhibition Depot will remain the first point of contact for the research and teaching of design, even when the newly renovated original museum building reopens in 2017!

USM as an exhibit item and item in daily use – the best possible compliment

The offices for the collections are furnished with recently purchased pure white and steel blue USM Haller shelves and pearl gray USM Haller tables. The management office is fitted with mid gray USM Haller shelves that had been in use in the original building for several years. Roman Aebersold, head of the museum’s Collaboration and Collections departments, is pleased to find that they look “almost like new and still work perfectly.” Here, high-quality Swiss design doesn’t just awaken archival interest, it arouses audible enthusiasm. According to Roman Aebersold, people value USM’s long service life, systems that adapt to many different needs and an innovative corporate culture.

USM Haller shelves have also found a place in the museum’s archives as items in its collection and thus as an important contribution to the history of Swiss design

In addition to lesser-known designs such as the “Model 500” office cabinet made of wood developed in 1964, the classics by Paul Schärer and Fritz Haller could also be viewed as part of the opening exhibition “100 Years of Swiss Design,” which was on display until February 2015.

Visitors to the new Museum of Design Exhibition Depot are introduced to USM in two ways: as an exhibit item and as an item in daily use. Could a design object possibly receive a better compliment?

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