What I’ve learned about KKL, the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre

KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre(Photograph copyright KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre)

Lucerne is best known for its historic old town with those scenic mountain backdrops. I always recommend this town to first-time visitors of Switzerland - it simply has it all.

For many centuries, the townscape with its River Reuss and the iconic Chapel Bridge has remained unchanged. But with the opening of the KKL Lucerne, the residents took a leap of faith by introducing modern architecture into their town.

And with a bang, Lucerne turned into an international hotspot for culture. From classical concerts to movie screenings with live orchestras, the KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre has become a veritable hub for audiophiles. One weekend, you might get to enjoy "Pirates of the Caribbean" with live tunes. And the next weekend, there might be a concert for the Chinese New Year.

Some history on the KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre

On the site of the current building, there used to be a congress center built in 1933 by the Swiss architect, Armin Meili. By 1980, the structure had deteriorated. And so in 1988, the city launched an architecture competition for a new center.

The project of Parisian architects, Jean Nouvel and Emmanuel Cattani, won the competition in 1989. It would take another five years before the project budget was approved, however.

Faced with a series of referendums, Nouvel had the vision to involve the community rather than to dominate over them. And by making Lucerners a part of their new culture center, the the 94 million Swiss franc construction budget was approved by a majority in 1994.

Now, you might be wondering what "KKL" stands for... KKL is short for the German name of the building, Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern. It translates to “Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre”.

About the architecture of the KKL

From the site of the KKL Lucerne, you can see the city’s luxury hotels across the lake. In front of the majestic entrance is the historic Wagenbach fountain, a structure I only really paid attention to when I returned to KKL to research this article.

The architect first envisioned for the building to be a ship going into the lake. This ended up not being feasible so instead, he tried to bring the water to the building. While standing outside the front entrance under the roof (which is reflecting the lake), I can feel what he was trying to achieve. There are channels leading underneath the building, quite literally bringing the water in.

KKL Luzern - Dominik Gehl(Photograph copyright Dominik Gehl)

The location of KKL could not be more convenient. It is adjacent to the Lucerne train terminal, making public transport the smoothest way for concertgoers. You simply exit the station and walk towards the right until you are underneath the giant flat roof covering the entrance area.

This roof extension is what makes the KKL architecture so unique. I read somewhere that the architect's aim was to purify the minds of those arriving for a cultural event, thus creating a blank slate or neutral state of mind for what it to come.

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Our photographer, Dominik Gehl, suggest using a wide-angle lens to capture the KKL. "Overall, it's a building with very strong lines, so bringing them out in the photos would be my main tip."

KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre(Photograph copyright KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre)

To fully appreciate the floating roof, venture to the opposite side of the lake and look across. The contemporary architecture flawlessly blends in with the horizon, respecting the historic nature of Lucerne without dominating it. The KKL provides a peaceful atmosphere and has become a new landmark of Lucerne.

View of Lake Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus with KKL Convention Center in Lucerne, Switzerland
 

What's the inside of the KKL Lucerne like?

This massive structure is made up of three main sections: a concert hall, seminar rooms and the Museum of Art Lucerne.

The KKL Luzern concert hall has been created mainly for classical music performances. Inside this 1300-square-meter hall, there is space for an audience of up to 1840 people seated on five floors. What stands out about the concert hall is the use of the color white on its wall panelings.

KKL Lucerne Concert Hall(Photograph copyright KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre)

The acoustics are world-renowned, a fact I can confirm from my own experience. The architect worked with Russell Johnson, an American acoustician. The expert was quoted as saying that the KKL concert hall represents a culmination of his 40 to 50 prior constructions, putting the best of everything into one space. Johnson’s ultimate aim was to design a space perfect for any kind of music, ranging from the Middle Ages to modern times.

Apparently, there is even a special air circulation system to quench even the slightest noise and create an atmosphere of complete silence.

 

At the center of the KKL Lucerne building, there is a multipurpose room aptly named Lucerne Hall. It is commonly used for congresses or festivals as its mobile walls can be arranged to cater to various requirements. In 2006, the KKL has won the prestigious award of "Best Congress Location in Switzerland."

Located on the fourth floor is the Museum of Art Lucerne. It is regarded as one of Switzerland’s most significant collections of contemporary art, showcasing both local as well as international artists. Here, architect Jean Nouvel has intentionally created another blank slate, a series of neutral exhibit spaces that allow the art to stand out.

KKL Lucerne Museum of Art(Photograph copyright Dominik Gehl)

My advice: during concert breaks, go up to the outdoor terrace. From this vantage point just underneath the roof, you will have some of the most unique views of Lucerne.

KKL Lucerne Terrace(Photograph copyright KKL Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre)
 

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The annual Lucerne Festival

The International Music Festival on August 19, 1998, marked the opening of the KKL. The event has since been rebranded to the Lucerne Festival, an annual four-week long summer festival.

While the KKL concert hall serves as a sort of headquarter, the Lucerne Festival happens in close to 100 venues throughout the city. The concerts cover a wide range of tastes, from the obvious classical to contemporary music.

As part of the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY, young international talents perform music from the 20th and 21st centuries, exclusively. In order to reach the public, here is a festival format I really like: “In the Streets” is an outdoor music festival in Lucerne’s old town. Think brass bands, flamenco or Balkan music: each summer, eight international bands will paint their notes onto Lucerne's historic old town.

This year, the Lucerne Festival will be taking place from Aug 14 through Sept 13, 2020.

Lucerne Festival Academy 2019(Photograph copyright Lucerne Festival Academy/Priska Ketterer)
 

Some more highlights from the KKL Luzern Program 2020

On February 8, 2020, the City Light Symphony Orchestra will be taking the audience to Hollywood. The Hollywood in Concert - Movie Heroes format is all about our favorite hero sagas. From Batman to Indiana Jones and Star Wars, this is the time to put on your cape and feel like a superhero...

From May 28 to 30, the film music of James Bond will be performed. Sure, there is the iconic opening track we all know so well. Personally, I would buy a ticket just to hear Tina Turner's "GoldenEye" theme - or Adele’s "Skyfall"...

On June 6, 2020, the KKL concert hall will host A Night at the Opera. This musical experience is a “best of” Italian opera classics, ranging from Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" to "Madam Butterfly" or "La Bohème".

Check out the full line-up of the KKL Luzern Program 2020.

More information

Take a guided tour to see behind the scenes of the KKL Luzern (15 francs, 1 hour, request an English speaking guide). Better yet, combine the tour with a lunchtime concert, several of which are scheduled for 2020.

Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre
Europaplatz 1
6005 Luzern

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Dimitri Burkhard

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Newly Swissed GmbH
As the founder, editor and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of the Swiss Travelwriters Club.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.
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