North America Native Museum


Indianermuseum der Stadt Zürich

Feldstrasse 89

8004 Zurich

Concept: Summer 2001


Competition Entry

The proposed project is a museum for the indigenous cultures of America.

The encouragement to design and propose a new Indian Museum is the present situation of the city of Zurich which has raised one of the best collections of the North American cultures in Europe but at he same time lacks appropriate premises. Their collection, conservation and exhibition work about the American indigenous cultures has grown into a unique and important institution in Europe. For 37 years the “temporary” exhibition rooms of the Museum have been part of the Feldstrasse primary school. These rooms could not provide appropriate exhibition spaces nor meet the requirements of a modern museum for conservation works. The result of our enthusiasm, to design a new museum for American Indian cultures and offer a completely new cultural and educational platform for visitors and inhabitants of the city of Zurich, is explained and documented on the following pages. We felt that the design concept should respect and connect to the diversity and intensity of the American Indian cultures. The building structure itself should reflect these attributes and at he same time offer an interactive platform between the Indian cultures and the Western world.


The presentation of antique and modern artifacts should allow them to unfold within individual spatial conditions. At the same time these internal spaces should offer the sensation of a modern exhibition space allowing the visitor to experience a synergetic effect of the subject and its spatial setting. Controlled natural light and the impact of nature on the spaces are considered as creative elements enhancing the internal qualities. A fluent movement within the exhibition and a spatially connected transcendence should allow the understanding of the underlying spirit of all culture groups presented. Even though the permanent and temporary exhibition spaces represent the main attraction to the public, the importance to create an international platform for all sorts of activities is a challenging task for a modern museum. Film shows, concerts, lectures and seminars about the American Indian culture are activities that are a vital part of the museum work today. Archive, workshop and the library are further functional spaces, which play an important role to complete the building in its interactive and international role between public, artists, historians and other museums. Our vision is to present a building, not only offering active and stimulating spaces for a modern museum, but also communicating these values in the language of the building itself.


<The impact of nature>
Indigenous cultures have always been deeply linked to nature and the powers of the universe. This is reflected not only in many aspects of their everyday life but found as an essential influence in their traditions and ceremonies. Their studies of nature and their environment are source and inspiration of their knowledge and wisdom. Among their rich and symbolic language the circle stands for the community and the powers of the universe. As a symbol it stands for the dynamic cosmic energy and is found in many different fields of their life and beliefs: a central energy, which is elementary to all humans life and existence and manifests itself in many different forms.

<The dynamics of the whirl>
The power of this circling energy finds its manifestation in different forms. It can be creative but appears also in destructive forms. This circling energy is also found to be temporary in its nature, but powerful in its impact. If this powerful spinning force of the universe, the air or the water clashes with an existing order, it often brings destruction and leaves chaos behind. In a symbolic way it stands for change – the end of the old and beginning of something new. It stands for the center attracting anything immediate to its inescapable power of the universe.


< The fragmentation of the `Lebensraum`>
The dynamic process of fragmentation is the destruction of the existing order within a certain period of time. This process is constantly taking place in many aspects of life – in a slower or faster pace, over years, decades, centuries. The fragmentation follows the loss of identity, form and structure. The fragmented remains part of the previous order but no longer has true meaning within its original context.
Through time dynamic forces – destructive as well as creative ones – disassemble of the existing and/or reassemble of the loose are taking place. Through displacement, distortion and abrasive forces the once complete is broken into fragments. Followed by a transitional state of displacement and chaos a new organization is established.

<Lebensraum of the native Americans>
The scientific division of the North American continent in 12 cultural areas reflects the different influences of climatic, topographical and vegetative conditions. These different environments defined the way of life and the culture of the native communities. Each community is a sustainable unit within a greater order.


<Signification of the transformation process>
The metaphor of the map, which is a functioning totality, falls into parts along the former boundaries of the cultural areas. The spinning force is destroying the existing order of the whole, loosing its identity and meaning. Form becomes incomprehensible and seemingly chaotic. Periodical moments in time (= time strata) represent the stages within the dynamic process of fragmentation. These eight time strata are representing a sequence of formal chaos which, after 60 seconds (= 6 stages), results in complete disappearance of form.
The spatial link between these strata lies in the actual movement of each fragment. This spatial movement is dependent on time. The central drift of the movement is displacing the initial position of the parts in a three-dimensional and time dimensional sequence. By simulating the destructive and at the same time very creative force the interest aims at the process of transformation itself and its different stages.


<Superimposition of time strata>
The additional dimension of time allows a chronological overlay of strata within the transformation process. The superimposition of all time strata is making the different positions of each fragment readable and the stages of the transformation transparent.


Connecting each fragment of the first strata with the fragment of the following strata chronologically, three-dimensional elements evolve. They represent the movement of each fragment driven by the spinning force. Together they form an entity that describes the manifestation of the transformation process. As a wire frame structure they recall the image of a ‘hollow shell’ which assembles itself in a process of materialization. The assemblage of all single structures produces an entity that in it self creates crossovers of the various shell structures. Multiple interstices of hybrid and homogeneous spaces evolve.


<Manifestation of the transformation process>
The recursive description of the now static entity is decoding its internal complexity. The recursive process is using the number of strata according to the levels required for the spatial arrangement of the museum. New strata of the entity become revealed. They are forming the basis for the spatial arrangement and floor layout of the building.


The proposed site is enhancing the initial inspiration from the powers of nature and the universe. A synergetic effect between building and environment is emerging. The site is situated next to the horticultural gardens of the city of Zurich. The surrounding park includes a selected plantation of foreign plants and creates a special meditative atmosphere - a refuge to the city. This situation corresponds to the concept and philosophy to experience the museum and its immediate environment as a place of meditation. Whilst the visitor approaches the building and follows the invisible flow of the central force, the environment is becoming part of his/her movement: Museum, tropical greenhouses and botanical gardens create a synergetic effect resulting in an
educational and enjoyable experience for the visitor. We believe that this creates a perfect setting to observe the past and presence of Indian cultures. It allows an objective approach and understanding of their world of mythology, spirituality and creativity.


<The impact of nature>
The building presents itself as one entity structured in different components, which interlock. The materialization of each component is relating to the concept and the spatial organization of the building. The combinations of stone, glass and wood express different material qualities. These opposing materials of the facade give a hint of the enormous diversity characteristic for all American Indian cultures and their various ways of life. Together they form a superior entity. At night the qualities of the facade change their appearance. The glass façade is a “light element” outstanding from the rest of the façade. It can display internal activities to the outside, revealing glimpses of its internal life. The internal exhibition is a continuous space within all different structural components. The different materials used on the façade are creating an open space dissolving their characteristic form to a large degree into an unexpected spatial experience.