The Museum History

Key dates


As the ICRC’s hundredth anniversary approached, new initiatives were launched to establish a Red Cross Museum in Geneva.


Laurent Marti, a former delegate, presented the idea of a museum and sent a memorandum to Jean Pictet, Director-General of the ICRC. The aim was to trace the major stages of humanitarian history before and after the creation of the Red Cross.


An architectural competition was launched. The final choice fell on the project by Pierre Zoelly, Georges Haefeli and Michel Girardet, which retained the existing site and forged a link with the work of the Red Cross.


The Foundation for the International Red Cross Museum was established and was chaired by Philippe de Weck.


The first stone of the Museum was set in place on 20 November, in the presence of Mrs Ursula Furgler, Mrs Raissa Gorbatchev and Mrs Nancy Reagan.


With Laurent Marti as its Director, the Museum opened its doors to the public on 29 October.
It then took the name of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and
 Jean-Pierre Hocké was appointed as its President.


Didier Helg took over as the Museum’s Director, followed by Christine Müller.


Roger Mayou was appointed Director. He initiated the redevelopment of « Area 11 », the part of the permanent exhibition covering the contemporary period. Eager to continue in that direction, he began to consider the possibility of renewing the entire permanent exhibition.


Following a period with Michel Convers as the interim Director, Bernard Koechlin became the Council’s Chairman.


The Foundation Board adopted the strategic plan for 2008-2018, which included two major decisions: the construction of a «Visitors’ Centre» shared with the ICRC and complete transformation of the permanent exhibition.


Luc Hafner was appointed Chair of the Foundation Board.


With the assistance of Lordculture, a competition for the scenography was launched. Nine international architect/scenographer companies were invited to take part.


The jury’s choice fell on Gringo Cardia from Brazil, Diébédo Francis Kéré from Burkina Faso and Shigeru Ban from Japan. Coordination of the overall master plan and the work of the three winning architects, as well as the redevelopment of the common spaces and the new temporary exhibition room were entrusted to atelier oï.


The Museum closed its doors at the end of June.


After 22 months of work, it will reopen on 18 May with the new permanent exhibition,
The Humanitarian Adventure.



An archaeology of the existent: the common spaces project

atelier oï was given the task of coordinating the general master plan for the construction of the new Museum and the work of the three scenographers entrusted with the design of the permanent exhibition. It also designed the common spaces, such as the reception, shop and circulation areas.

In tackling the layout concept for the common spaces, we began by taking stock of the museum’s context and its existing architecture, much like an archaeologist whose primary aim is to try to understand and interpret what he finds. In that sense, we could not eclipse the presence or strength of the work of the architect Pierre Zoelly from the 1980s. Our approach was therefore to seek to establish a dialogue with the existent rather than to attempt to break with it. We had to find a way of signalling a new stage in the Museum’s development while, at the same time, drawing on past history.

Working with the material
Before reflecting on an appropriate form or composition, we first looked for a material that would be able to dialogue with the concrete that is an omnipresent feature of the museum’s existing architecture. To contrast with the mineral packaging, we chose solid wood as the only substance that would be the leitmotif in our work, unfurling like a ribbon as visitors move along their chosen routes. In the curved architecture devoid of right angles, the wood becomes a living material in alliance with the stone; the material plays and blends with what was already in place and with the surroundings and has been used in some scenographies much as the hempcrete and cardboard tubes. So as to adapt this interplay to the programmes and the needs, by making wavy cuts in strips of solid wood we created a tool that enabled us to make the different partitions and movable items needed in the layout of the common spaces. Thus, by slightly offsetting the strips, the degree of transparency and opacity of the partitions could be varied, accompanying visitors in slightly different ways as they move through the Museum.
We decided to use a poured floor, the idea being for it to tie in with the concept of flexible routing, and to use a red earth colour so that it would blend chromatically with the wood in our design and with the range of materials that are the main feature of the different scenographies,