“There’s a lot of gray energy in old materials, and a lot of history besides,“ says architect Martin Bruhin about his modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland

SuperHink-main prize in the architecture category: Modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland.SuperHink-main prize in the architecture category: Modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland.

The Museum Aargau in northern Switzerland aims to bring history to life at various locations. It includes 4 castles, 2 monasteries and other submissions. In one of these castles there was now an extraordinary restoration: the barn in Wildegg Castle, picturesquely situated on a mountain cone, was to be refurbished as a modern venue. It dates back to 1661 and is one of Switzerland’s historic buildings of national importance.

The task was taken on by the architectural firm Bruhin Spiess, which enjoys dealing with such challenges. One of the specifications for the project was that all changes had to be reversible.

The barn is located right next to the baroque castle building and formerly housed the sleeping chambers for the peasants of the princely court and stables for the livestock. It was an unadorned room and dark, as there are only tiny windows in the walls.

Wildegg Castle.

The architects’ goal was to preserve this overall impression, but at the same time to give the space an attractive touch for today’s events.

Martin Bruhin pursued the idea of building on, instead of restoring a nostalgic state. In other words, he wanted to prepare the building for contemporary use, but at the same time preserve the old character, and at the same time keep the CO2-release from the construction work as low as possible.

Modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland.

On the floor of the hall, he had the opportunity to practice this. The floor now consists of slabs of Mäginwil shell limestone with many different formats without repetition and a uniform thickness of 6 cm.

As the architect puts it, “There’s a lot of gray energy in old materials, and a lot of history besides.“

Basically, the slope of the floor was retained, as it follows the course of the rock plateau below. This had been determined beforehand by trial excavations.

Some of the slabs had to be replaced with new stones from a nearby quarry.

Bruhin sums up: “Rectangular formats were important to us, no cross joints and only maximum joints over 3 slab encounters. It’s a kind of ‘Roman bond,’ but with 154 different formats.“ A maximum of 300 kg weighs the single slab.

The floor was raised by 18 cm so that insulation and heating coils could be installed there, as well as lines for an inductive listening system.

Modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland.

A special solution was needed for the entrances. The old doors open inwards, which means that only 20 people are allowed in the room for fire protection reasons. Martin Bruhin decided to use wooden and glass vestibules on the inside in front of the doors.

This means that when the room is in use, the outer doors can remain open as escape routes without event noise escaping outside or heat being lost.

Modernization of the barn at Wildegg Castle in Switzerland.The main prize in the architecture category was won by the Bruhin Spiess office: (from left to right) Robin Lüscher, Seraina Bruhin-Spiess, Martin Bruhin.

From now on, 200 people are allowed to stay there. The gallery, formerly the hayloft, can be reached via a new staircase and has a higher railing than before.

The kitchen for catering can also be reached under these stairs. The old plank stud wall or bent wall under the gallery is a splendor, as are the pillars supporting the ceiling.

The stairs from the gallery to the attic were completely removed for fire safety reasons.

The lighting is also new. However, most of the technical interventions are invisible. For example, the electrical installations and convectors for ventilation were integrated into the wooden benches. The heating is in the floor, as mentioned. Modern museum technology was also installed, including acoustic measures on the ceiling.

A new lime plaster replaces the previous cement plaster. It contributes significantly to the historic appearance of the barn.

The way the architect handled the stone floor was recognized with one of the 2023 SuperHink main awards. The award is given by the Pro Naturstein Association to honor projects that demonstrate outstanding design with stone. The name refers to the menhirs known from the comics featuring Asterix and Obelix. The prize money was 2500 CHF

Bruhin Spiess (German)

SuperHink (German)

Museum Aargau (German)

Photos: Jürg Zimmermann, Zürich

(12.07.2023, USA: 07.12.2023)