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The visitor experience takes center stage: Uwe Brückner, Sebastian Vivas, Kai-Uwe Bergmann (from left to right).
© David von Becker
The visitor experience takes center stage: Uwe Brückner, Sebastian Vivas, Kai-Uwe Bergmann (from left to right).

In Conversation: Sébastian Vivas, Uwe Brückner und Kai-Uwe Bergmann
A museum like a three-star restaurant

by Fabian Peters | 11/7/2016

The eye-catching museum project by Audemars Piguet and architecture studio BIG has entered the next phase. Now the diggers are rolling into Le Brassus, where the watchmaker is based, high in the Jura Mountains in the Canton of Vaud. BIG’s design is a little “architettura parlante” – speaking architecture: The building has a spiral shape and calls to mind the balance wheel in mechanical watches. All the building’s walls are made of glass and the roof is supported solely by the glass walls. This transparency is also particularly ingenious, indeed, in addition to the museum the new structure houses watchmaking workshops which also feature within the exhibition. The new museum concept was developed by Sébastian Vivas, Heritage Director at Audemars Piguet, together with the renowned exhibition architect and scenographer Uwe Brückner. In our interview Sébastian Vivas, Uwe Brückner and Kai-Uwe Bergmann from BIG explain how the new museum will be a real experience for visitors and employees alike. 

A vision of Glass and bronze: The metal meshwork filters the sunlight in the new museum for Audemars Piguet.
© Audemars Piguet
A vision of Glass and bronze: The metal meshwork filters the sunlight in the new museum for Audemars Piguet.

Fabian Peters: Mr. Brückner, can you describe a tour of the new Audemars Piguet museum in Le Brassus? What can visitors expect?

Uwe Brückner: The museum’s special architecture already maps out the visitor’s path: He simply follows the spiraling route through the building. He will see the beginnings and the history of watchmaking at Audemars Piguet and then, at the center of the spiral, he will find the absolute masterpieces of the art of watchmaking, the Grandes Complications.

How will you communicate to visitors the fascination for the art of watchmaking?

Uwe Brückner: The special thing about the tour will be the intermezzi. They are designed to illustrate to the visitor certain technical things in a playful way. For instance, we collaborated with artist François Junod, who happens to live very close to Le Brassus. He designed an apparatus for the museum that visitors can use to explore mechanical power transmission. I don’t want to give away too much, but all the intermezzi put people center stage. We want our visitors to experience as intensively as possible the fascination for these incredible engineering achievements, the outstanding precision of the art of watchmaking. And in the intermezzi they have the opportunity to try out these complex mechanical processes themselves.

Seeking to convey the fascination for the art of watchmaking: Scenographer Uwe Brückner.
© David von Becker
Seeking to convey the fascination for the art of watchmaking: Scenographer Uwe Brückner.

Will multimedia applications feature?

Sébastian Vivas: We are trying to use multimedia only where it is absolutely necessary, because a mechanical watch is the exact opposite of multimedia. It is real. It goes tick-tock. It stops sometimes. It is mechanical. Everything it does is accompanied by a movement, a sound. You can see it, hear it, feel it. And it is in this way that we want to tell our story and get people interested in it. 

The museum will also show the history of Audemars Piguet. How will you bring it to life?

Sébastian Vivas: Naturally by telling it to our visitors! It actually begins before they have even entered the museum. After all, taking the road visitors have to travel up 1,400 meters into the mountains, the Vallée de Joux. Then finally they see this beautiful lake, this incredible landscape. All this is part of the journey of discovery. Visitors don’t know it, but they are already in the middle of the exhibition. And then we begin to tell our story: why we are here in this location, what makes it so special. The Vallée de Joux is the cradle of numerous watchmaking firms, for this was where the knowhow was. Even hundreds of years ago people here had to be inventive to survive, because the winters are so long.

Sebastián Vivas wishes to show visitors what makes the Vallée de Jux, Le Brassus and of course Audemars Piguet special.
© David von Becker
Sebastián Vivas wishes to show visitors what makes the Vallée de Jux, Le Brassus and of course Audemars Piguet special.

Apart from the architecture and the intermezzi, what will set the new museum in Le Brassus apart from a conventional museum?

Sébastian Vivas: It will still be a museum, but a living one. People will work there. Not like in a regular open-air museum, where the potter comes once a week to present his craft. Indeed, our best watchmakers, those who produce the Grandes Complications and the jewel-studded watches, those who restore the most valuable pieces, will be working in the new building. 

And you are not afraid that the visitors will disturb the watchmakers?

Sébastian Vivas: That is the big challenge. We want to integrate our employees, but we also want to protect them. For this reason too all visitors will see the museum on a guided tour. In this way we can on the one hand precisely control visitor numbers, and on the other it enables us to take complete care of our guests. We can show them the items and explain them, instead of just handing out audio-guides. After all, our top priority in this project is the quality of the experience. 

Not quantity, but quality: Sébastian Vivas has clear priorities for the new museum.
© David von Becker
Not quantity, but quality: Sébastian Vivas has clear priorities for the new museum.

Yet that will of course limit the number of people who can visit the museum.

Sébastian Vivas: We think we can show perhaps 6,000 people a year the museum. Prior registration will be necessary and we hope no one will have to wait a long time. But when you want to eat in a famous three-star restaurant, you might also have to wait a while. Sometimes it’s simply worth waiting for something really good!

Is there a link between the design of Audemars Piguet watches and the museum’s architecture?

Kai-Uwe Bergmann: For me the parallel lies in efficiency. You never add anything to a watch that is superfluous and serves no purpose. We wanted to create a building that reflects this approach. When we decided to do entirely without pillars and to use the glazing as the sole load-bearing structure for the roof, we found it was a highly fitting analogy to the efficiency of Audemars Piguet’s watchmaking art. 

The art of watchmaking inspired the architects at BIG in methodical terms too, explains Kai-Uwe Bergmann.
© David von Becker
The art of watchmaking inspired the architects at BIG in methodical terms too, explains Kai-Uwe Bergmann.

Now that you have aroused our curiosity, when will the museum open its doors?

Sébastian Vivas: We are planning to open the museum in early 2019. But we are dependent on the weather. As I said, we are building at a height of over 1,000 meters and the winters here and long and cold. 

And now a direct question: Is it really worth all this enormous effort? It is unlikely that Audemars Piguet will sell any more watches because of the museum.

Sébastian Vivas: That is the advantage of a family-run company. We are realizing the project, because we all think it is a great idea, because the family is convinced of it. Had none of the architecture competition entries impressed and excited us, we wouldn’t be building it. We need to love something, it has to excite us, bewitch us, only then will we realize it. That’s the benefit of our independence. 

Will the architecture of the new museum influence Audemars Piguet’s design in any way?

Kai-Uwe Bergmann: I think the entire atmosphere will be inspiring. After all, we are all inspired by the things we see, things that surround us. I would even go so far as to say that I hope this influence of the building will be clearly visible.

Sébastian Vivas: I believe the energy and inventiveness of the building will captivate us all!

Spiral with coronet: Rendering of the new museum in Le Brassus.
© Audemars Piguet
Spiral with coronet: Rendering of the new museum in Le Brassus.
Center of light: The new structure designed by BIG with the watchmaker’s existing buildings.
© Audemars Piguet
Center of light: The new structure designed by BIG with the watchmaker’s existing buildings.