Audemars Piguet is a Swiss Luxury Watchmaker based in the heart of the Vallée de Joux, Le Brassus, Switzerland. Their historical complex of factories and workshops was recently adorned with a museum designed by Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
Audemars Piguet is a family-owned, 140-year-old brand which prides itself in its heritage; their philosophy revolves around rare, precious and consistently unique creations. This philosophy is translated into a timeless, double spiral-shaped pavilion that is rooted in the ground and merges seamlessly into the landscape.
Bjarke Ingels Group or BIG architects is a world-renowned Architecture firm based in Copenhagen and New York. BIG’ architecture arises from a careful study of how contemporary life is continually evolving and shifting. The group had the winning proposal for the design of The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, which was completed and opened to the public in the year 2020. The elaborate architectural project was executed by teams of experts and artisans including CCHE, the local architecture firm that built the structure.
Location: Route de France 22B, 1348 Le Chenit, Switzerland
Partner-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels, Thomas Christoffersen
Project Leader: Daniel Sundlin
Client: Audemars Piguet
Area: 2400.0 sqm
Photographs: BIG, Iwan Baan
Concept and Design Philosophy
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet embodies the philosophy and core values of Audemars Piguet. It is a symbol of modernity amid rich history, paying homage to its heritage yet constantly evolving and innovating. The double spiral sets in perfectly with the sloping landscape, creating a unique identity for itself, while seamlessly integrating with the existing museum building and the Watchmaker complex.
The Bjarke Ingels Group opines that their design creates a sense of an oxymoron, “Striking yet subtle. Contemporary yet Timeless. Functional yet sculptural. Floating yet rooted. Local presence with a global resonance.”
It is a contemporary design that blends with the heritage architecture of the complex: old with the new. This philosophy is reflected in the form of the museum which is intended to create a narrative experience of the art and science of the watchmaking process.
The newly designed spiral pavilion is connected to the existing museum building through an entrance hall. The exhibition route is planned such that it creates a seamless transition from the new space to the existing museum building. Exhibition and workshop spaces are wound sequentially in the double spiral thus creating a linear spatial experience for the user.
The museum is designed to take its users on a narrative journey of the rich heritage and history of Audemars Piguet. The design by BIG includes gallery spaces for a museum, workshops, and a guest house. To efficiently integrate these various programmatic requirements, a spiraling form was conceptualized. It also helped to create a visual narrative experience while walking through the museum as the exhibition spaces and the workshops are separated by glass walls.
The user experience begins from the old museum building which rhythmically takes them around the new museum, which slopes gently to the heart of the spiral. The slope in the spiral then rises again, like the wound springs of a watch. The story through which the users flow is composed of various collections, sculptures, showcases, design items, and workspaces, all of which are placed articulately to enhance the narrative experience.
At the heart of the spiral is a single display piece- the “Universelle”. It is the most detailed and complicated watch ever created by Audemars Piguet; it has an incredible 21 “Complications”. It is displayed in a glass sphere, clearly highlighting the complications of the watch. The central singular watch piece “Universelle” is surrounded by Eight other “Grande Complication” watch displays.
The spiral form of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet allows for ample natural light to enter the structure and illuminate the pathways. To the side of the spiral is a subterranean guest house, created through two cuts in the landscape. The surrounding landscape elegantly drapes over the pavilion, integrating it seamlessly into the complex.
Innovative Construction Technology and Materials
Keeping with the Audemars Piguet’s philosophy of constant innovation, BIG has creatively designed the museum’s loading structure. There are no columns in the space; instead, the structure is entirely supported by curved structural glass. The curved glazing has a brass mesh on the exterior that regulates the lighting in the structure.
“Glass assumes the primary load-bearing function”, engineer Philippe Willareth was quoted as saying in Swiss media. It is an architectural achievement as the structure is the first to adopt such technology at this altitude.
The roof is a single continuous sheet of steel coated in brass. The steel makes the roof lightweight and the brass helps in sun protection. The undulating shape of the structure allows cuts in the roof, allowing ample natural daylight to enter the museum. The green roof helps to regulate the temperature inside the structure and also helps to absorb water.
Integration of technology and modernity with effective and elegant design makes Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet an unforgettable experience. As Bjarke Ingels, Creative director of Bjarke Ingels Groups (BIG) says, “Watchmaking like architecture is the art and science of imbuing metals and minerals with energy, movement, intelligence and measure to bring them to life in the form of telling time.”