Gottfried Semper – Architecture and Science

Exhibition: from 1 November 2003 to 25 January 2004

Gottfried Semper (1803 - 1879) was hailed by his contemporaries as the „Michelangelo of the 19th century.“ On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is time to honour this giant of architecture with a major exhibition.


This labour of love has been undertaken in cooperation with the Institute for History and Theory of Architecture (gta) at the ETH-Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the architecture museum of the Technical University of Munich, Germany. The present exhibition was first shown at the new Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich; for Zurich, the exhibition has been modified and enlarged.

The Semper show offers a comprehensive view of the architect’s work, with drawings from his studios, historical photos, models, newly discovered materials from Semper’s own private collection, letters and other materials gathered from around 60 international lenders. Gottfried Semper’s eventful life led him to extended stays in Paris, Dresden, London, Zurich and Vienna. Along the way, he produced some of the enduring architectural masterpieces of the 19th century, such as the magnificent “Semperoper” and the Galerie in Dresden, the main ETH building in Zurich, the classically influenced town hall in Winterthur and the monumental Imperial Forum in Vienna. In Zurich, the ETH building remains an enduring landmark above the city, while his projects for a government district near the lake were early visions for a larger urban centre.

Like no other architect of his time, Semper matched a wide range of outstanding buildings with major theoretical writings. His inexhaustible curiosity about the “things of the world” and his passionate collector’s nature resulted in an extensive study collection. The exhibition includes a reconstruction of his personal library, imparting a sense of the man’s vast intellectual musings.

With his involvement in the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in England in 1851, and his subsequent teaching position at the London School of Design, Semper elevated craftsmanship, the earliest form of human artistic endeavour, to the centre of his theory of architectural design. His magnum opus on architecture and cultural theory, “Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts,“ became a key text in architectural theory and in the reform of arts and crafts. In this context, the Semper exhibition is also a fitting accompaniment to the 125th anniversary of Zurich’s School of Art and Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst).

Many of the models shown were specially made for this exhibition under the supervision of Bukhalter Sumi Architects, Zurich, including a large model of the ETH building. Another highlight is a 1:1 model of a ship decorated in “Pompeiian” style that was moored along the Limmat River in Zurich until 1872.

A major publication accompanies the Semper exhibition, published by gta, Zurich, and Prestel Verlag, Munich (520 pages, 680 illustrations, 15 essays by Semper specialists, as well as a catalogue of s further Semper’s complete oeuvre compiled by Winifried Nerdinger and Werner Oechslin. The paperback edition is available for CHF 56. at the Museum for Gestaltung; the hard-bound edition can be purchased in bookstores, or directly from the gta, for CHF 112.

As part of the accompanying programme for the exhibition, besides various guided visits, a number of talks and discussions are planned. With Semper as a starting point, discussion themes will include the state of Zurich’s urban development, general design theory and the practice of architecture today, as well as the role and the methodology of architecture and design instruction.

This exhibition and the catalogue have been made possible by the generous support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, ETH Zurich, Ernst von Siemens Kunstfonds, Kantonale Denkmalpflege Zürich.

Model sponsors:

Architekten der Stadt Winterthur; Burkhalter Sumi Architekten, Zurich; Professoren des Architekturdepartements der ETH Zürich; ETH Zurich; Halter Generalunternehmer, Zurich; Hochbauamt Kanton Zurich; kt. Color, Uster; Dr. Lüchinger und Meyer Ingenieure, Zurich (regrettably, incorrectly written in the catalogue as ‘Meier’), Zaborowsky Modellbau, Zurich.

Project management: René Dalucas

Curators: Prof. Dr. Werner Oechslin, Dr. Sonja Hildebrand

Exhibition coordination: Marilena Cipriano

Museum für Gestaltung ZürichAusstellungsstrasse 608005 ZürichTel +41 (0)1 446 22 11 Fax +41 (0)1 446 22

Opening hours:

Tuesday to Thursday 10 am to 8 pm

Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 11 am to 6 pm

Mondays closed

Accompanying programme:

Wednesday, 5 November, 6:30 pm, Auditorium/Exhibition

Gottfried Semper - Architektur und Städtebau für Zürich

Short presentation from Andreas Hauser, art historian, Zurich, followed by a discussion and a tour of the exhibition with Franz Eberhard, Director of the Department of Urban Development for the City of Zurich; Peter Ess, Director of the Department of Buildings, Zurich and Christian Sumi, Burkhalter + Sumi Architects, Zurich. Moderated by Benedikt Loderer, editor, Hochparterre, Zurich

Wednesday, 19 November, 6:30 pm, Auditorium/Exhibition

"... die wissenschaftliche Thätigkeit ist da, ehe man die Grundsätze derselben zum Bewusstsein gebracht hat; erst wenn man sein Verfahren durch die Probe befriedigend gefunden hat, entwickelt man sich selbst daran die Regeln."

Presentation by Werner Oechslin, Chairman of the Institute for the Theory and History of Architecture, ETH-Zurich, followed by a tour of the exhibition.

Thursday, 8 January, 7 pm, Auditorium

Latein für Architekten und Designer - der perfekte Unterricht

Discussion with Hans-Peter Schwarz, Rektor, Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst Zürich; Urs Fanger, Head of the Design Department, Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst Zürich; Ludger Hovestadt, Professor for CAAD, ETH Zurich and Adrian Meyer, Chairman of the Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich. Introduction: Sonja Hildebrand, research assistant, Institute gta der ETH Zürich. Moderated by: Werner Oechslin, Chairman of the Institute for the Theory and History of Architecture, ETH-Zurich

Thursday, 15 January, 7 pm, Auditorium

Parameter des Entwurfs - das Dilemma des Architekten?

Discussion with Beate Schnitter, architect, Zurich; Andrea Deplazes, Professor für Architektur und Konstruktion, und Christian Sumi, Burkhalter + Sumi Architekten, Zürich. Moderated by: Stanislaus von Moos, Professor of Art History, Universität Zürich

Wednesday, 21 January, 7:30 pm, Foyer

Book opening: Michael Gnehm, "Stumme Poesie" - Architektur und Sprache bei Gottfried Semper",

gta Verlag

Viewings of buildings by Gottfried Semper

Semper Buildings in Zürich

Meeting place: ETH Zentrum, Polyterrasse, 2 pm

Saturday, 15.11. Tour with Andreas Hauser, art historian, Zurich

Saturday, 06.12. Tour with Andreas Hauser, art historian, Zurich

Saturday, 10.01. Tour with Dieter Weidmann,, Institut gta der ETH Zürich

Town Hall, Winterthur

Meeting place: Town Hall, Winterthur, 3 pm

Friday, 18.11. Tour with Daniel Schneller, City of Zurich Preservation (Denkmalpfleger der Stadt Zürich)

Villa Garbald, Castasegna (Bergell)

Saturday, 13.12., 12:30 pm Castasegna

Tour with Diego Giovanoli, President of the Building Commission of Garbald, and Gian Andrea Walther, President, Società Culturale Bregaglia

Information and registration: monka.leonhardt(at)


Gottfried Semper (1803-1879)

Winfried Nerdinger und Werner Oechslin, Eds.

24.5x30 cm

520 pages, 600 illustrations., black-and-white and colour

Zurich und Munich, gta Verlag und Prestel Verlag Publishers

Store price: CHF 112.-- (hard bound)

ISBN 3-85676-120-1 (hard bound)

Paperback edition: CHF 56.--

ISBN 3-85676-123-3 (paperback)

verlag(at) / Fax: +41 (0)1 446 22 33