History of the building (PDF) »


Learn more about the interesting history of this unique building and its distinctive construction.

Even before there were cinemas, spectators visited other visual sensations. The panorama painting was one of these. The Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is one of the standardised panoramas which were made between 1880 and 1914 and is one of the last of its kind worldwide.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 was frequently portrayed in panorama paintings. A Belgian panorama company realised that the crossing of France ‘s Bourbaki Army at Les Verrires/NE would be a promising subject for a Swiss panorama. Entrepreneur Benjamin Henneberg commissioned the Genevese architect Jacques Elysee Goss to design the exhibition building for the panorama rotunda in Geneva and the Genevese artist Edouard Castres to paint the circular composition.

1880 Completion of the exhibition building in Geneva, the original site of the Bourbaki Panorama. In 1881 Edouard Castres, who had been a volunteer with the Red Cross and had thus experienced the crossing of the border in 1871, painted the panorama painting which had a height of 15m and circumference of 112m together with a team of talented artists, one of whom was Ferdinand Hodler.

1881 to 1889 For eight years, the Bourbaki Panorama was on view in Geneva. There had already been plans for setting up a panorama of the Battle of Sempach in Lucerne several years earlier, but the project had to be eventually abandoned due to financial reasons. The building plot designated for this in the Wey district of Lucerne was later used for the Bourbaki Panorama.

The district was ideal for a panorama, as various tourist attractions ( Lion Monument, Glacier Garden, Meyer’s Diorama), as well as numerous souvenir shops, had already been established.

Theodor Gränicher, an architect from Lucerne, drew up plans for a polygonal building for the panorama.

1889 The panorama painting was transported from Geneva to Lucerne and opened to the public in the new building on 31 August 1889.

1906/07 One-and-a-half-storey buildings for commercial use were erected around the periphery of the Panorama rotunda.

1925 The panorama building was sold to Franz Koch & Söhne, a Lucerne transport company. The Bourbaki Panorama underwent three changes, the first being in 1925/26 when Franz Koch & Söhne installed a garage for cars on the ground level. In a temple-like fashion, Doric columns were constructed in the middle of the building with Corinthian pilasters on the walls to surround the first Ford automobiles, which had begun to make their appearance in Lucerne. The panorama painting then had to be shortened and the podium (visitors’ platform) was raised for the first time. The garage installation was considered to be the first mechanised parking garage on the continent of Europe.

Its turning platform, which could be rotated to available parking spaces located around the ring, was restored to working order as an industrial-archaeological monument during the renovation which took place between 1996-2000.

1949 The capacity of the garage was expanded in the building by installing yet a second level. Once again the painting was shortened and hung higher in the rotunda. A larger visitors’ platform was also newly installed. As a result, the Panorama was shortened by a total of almost one third of its original height of 15m.

1954 The supporting skeletal structure and the urban appearance of the panorama building underwent an unfavourable change due to the expansion on the southwest corner, which led to the sinking of the panorama rotunda by approximately 60 centimetres on the corner of the Friedenstrasse.

1982 and 1986 The Association for the Preservation of the Bourbaki Panorama procured the building together with the panorama painting from the private owners in two stages. This was made possible by an annuity and an interest-free loan, each amounting to a sum of one million Swiss francs, from the city of Lucerne.

1987-1990 Plans were made for a cultural center as a part of an entire concept referred to as “cultural space in the city of Lucerne “. Development continued on “Pro Arte”, the winning project of an architecture competition in 1987, which was then abandoned in 1990.

1993 the winners of the architecture competition in 1987/88, Zurich architects Kreis Schaad Schaad, drew up the plans for a new project.

10. March 1996 The citizens of Lucerne adopted the referendum for the 27-million franc project “ Bourbaki Panorama and City Library” with a consent of over 80%.

1997 The demolition work began on the peripheral annexes dating from 1906 / 07 as well as those dating from 1954.

29. January 2000 The Bourbaki Panorama was reopened upon completion of the restoration and reconstruction of the building. As a result of this reconstruction, three important monuments were preserved: the panorama painting dating from 1881, the panorama rotunda dating from 1889, and the garage dating from 1926, with their signature elements still intact.

With the extensions (a new lower level and outer facade), space for additional capacity was created: a city library, cinemas, shops and a restaurant. The entire concept resulted in successfully combining historical monuments with a multicultural center of the future and an admirable architectural achievement in urban development at the close of the 20th century.

The initial phase of the renovation entailed measuring and drawing up precise plans of the original building as documentation for the safeguarding process. This was important because for decades, changes had been made without carefully following the original building plans dating from 1889, 1925, 1949 und 1953. In a second phase, the actual work on the building began: it was not demolished, but rather carefully dismantled, and had to be carried out with the least possible vibration and dust. The main focus of all these precautionary measures was the panorama painting: it should sustain no damage.

In 1997, the panorama painting underwent the necessary provisional preservation measures, and at the end of August of the same year, it was lowered. In the autumn of 1997, the demolition of the old commercial buildings located on Löwenplatz on the side of the Bourbaki building as well as the old administration building on the corner of Friedenstrasse and Löwenstrasse commenced. Next followed the excavation for the new building and for the lower level under the old panorama rotunda. In the spring of 1998, Lucerne’s panorama was a spectacular sight: the rotunda, of cast iron frame girders and dry concrete, stood with its characteristic dome and lantern on dozens of thin micro-piles, sunk into the ground to a depth of up to 43 meters.
A new shell of steel and glass

Reduced to the minimum – this is how the Zurich architects Kreis, Schaad and Schaad described their concept for the materials used in the re-building. The new building was constructed of only seven different materials.

The outer shell of steel and glass is characterised by simple elegance. On the ground level, the visitor’s eye is attracted by the shops. Above, on the first floor, one finds Lucerne’s city library with its vast selection of various media, which are located for the most part on the mezzanines encircling the rotunda.

In the evening, light from the upper floor falls onto the Löwenplatz below, illuminating the outer contours of this architectonic symbol, the panorama rotunda. The main entrance, opposite the SUVA building, leads to the ground level, or mall. The shops are located around the outer circumference of the mall, and a turning platform – dating from the old Panorama garage of 1926 and once again in operational condition – forms an inner ring. There are no longer automobiles, however, on the former premises of the garage, but rather tables: one can eat and drink here. From the ground level, a double-helix spiral staircase leads to the lower level, where three cinemas and the “kunstpanorama” (exhibition gallery for young artists) are located.

Improvement of the climatic conditions

Completion of the faux-terrain​

Complete renovation of the museum​

September 2011​
Opening of the permanent exhibition​

March 2012​
Special restauration of the canvas ​

We would be happy to answer any of your questions. Please contact us at: info@bourbakipanorama.ch