The renovation of Gustavianum

The renovation will, above all, improve the environmental conditions for exhibited objects, as well as increase the total area of exhibition space. The renovation work is being conducted by Sweden´s National Property Board, in close collaboration with Uppsala University. The work is estimated to be completed until spring 2024. 

Gustavianum is itself a unique building of a major historical significance that must be treated with great care. The building including the Anatomical Theatre, will not be altered. The careful renovation will instead focus on improving the existing building's ability to function as a museum, where the collections can be better preserved for the future. When the doors re-open, the visitors will experience a unique university museum of world class.

Behind the scenes

The work with the new Gustavianum

The work with the new building for Gustavianum is very active and we will get to know more about it.

Hello Pär Karlsson! You are the CEO of ByggConstruct, who have just started work in Gustavianum. What is your role in the ongoing renovation?

We are coordinating the renovation, from start to completion. This is a comprehensive task, in a special building. Our role as general contractor is to lead and implement the project with our tradespeople and technicians, maintaining excellent coordination between ByggConstruct and SFV (Sweden’s National Property Board). It is both very challenging and rewarding to work with old historic buildings.

Is it true that you are also responsible for the ongoing renovation of Kyrkans hus?

Yes, that’s right. The renovation of Kyrkans hus (the national administrative offices for the Church of Sweden) began some time ago but is now proceeding in parallel with the work on Gustavianum. We see this as an advantage, as we can quickly and easily allocate resource support from one project to the other. This is mainly relevant for resources in the form of tradespeople and expertise.

Do you yourself have memories from previous visits to Gustavianum?

The anatomical theatre is the first thing I recall. Having said that, I'm a bit ‘occupationally damaged’ and have a soft spot for the beautiful limestone floors in the stairwells.

Work on the new exhibitions in Gustavianum is in full swing.

Researchers, museum colleagues and students are contributing to producing the texts that will accompany the objects to be exhibited. One of the participating researchers is Gustav Berry.

What is your thesis about?

My dissertation research is at the intersection between agricultural and educational history. I am researching female agricultural and household education during the twentieth century and my thesis explores why so-called rural household education was carried out. In the thesis, I show that rural household education was designed to tackle the problems arising in connection with rural depopulation, and  was formulated by a group who felt threatened by the rapid and powerful transformation of the countryside during the first half of the twentieth century.

What is your relationship with museums?

Before starting my PhD, I was employed at various museums in Sweden and Norway, so I have primarily come to associate museums with work, even though I am also a reasonably frequent museum visitor. Knowledge also comes automatically to mind when I think of museums. For me, museums are inalienable institutions of knowledge: they both manage and create knowledge.

What did you think of the assignment?

Having the opportunity to contribute to the development of knowledge around Gustavianium's collections by writing a micro-narrative about an object has been a very enjoyable assignment, and a thought-provoking task for me as a researcher. In the everyday, I don’t work with material objects. Therefore, trying to tell the story of an object was a challenge. But the assignment gave me new perspectives on how multifaceted such an everyday object as a washing machine can be. It also provided a very solid understanding of the past that is rarely accessible in the written source material I am used to working with.

The renovation of Gustavianum continues!

Now, during autumn 2022, the project enters a new and exciting phase, with work on the building going ahead at full speed. The National Property Board of Sweden is now responsible for the building and supervising a series of different processes: electrical installations, security upgrades, installation of lighting and air conditioning systems, and finally, the renovation of all floors and surfaces. In other words, this is a project that involves expertise and genuine craftsmanship in a wide range of areas. At the same time, the Museum's own staff continue with preparations for all the new exhibitions that will fill the newly renovated Gustavianum. Sights are set on a reopening in early 2024.

Examination of Gustavianum's sundial

In connection with Gustavianum's ongoing renovation, the sundial has been examined. Do you know how a sundial works? As the earth rotates around its axis in 24 hours, it looks like the sun is moving from east to west. Therefore, shadows will also move during the day. When the sun shines on the dome's solar sphere, half the sphere is illuminated. The other is in the shadows. The line between light and shadow moves around the sphere, and it is the position of the line on the sphere scale that shows the time. Try reading the sundial yourself on a sunny day! Compare with the cathedral if you feel insecure. Remember that we did not have summer time in the 17th century.

Hi, Hanna Wistrand, Project Manager at SFV (National Property Board of Sweden)

What is your role in the current renovation project?

I am one of two Project Leaders from the National Property Board of Sweden (SFV); my role is that of Assistant Project Leader.

Many different specialists are involved in the renovation of Gustavianum. How is the responsibility divided among them? 

A lot of people are participating in the project, both external consultants and specialist staff from SFV. The consultant group consists of just under 20 people from different disciplines. From our own staff we have brought in about 10 technical specialists and cultural heritage specialists.The responsibility for the project is divided according to area of expertise (for example Environment, Electricity, Cultural Heritage, Plumbing, Architecture and so on), with each consultant having responsibility for their particular area.  

Gustavianum isn’t just any old building. What do you think its function will be in a hundred years’ time?

My hope is that it will still be used for education in some way. It would be fantastic if it were still possible for members of the general public to visit the building and the anatomical theatre.  

A greeting from Fredrik, coordinator for the renovation

Hi, Fredrik Eriksson! You have an important role as coordinator and support for Gustavianum during the current renovation process.

- It varies depending on which projects I am involved in. But most days include a combination of planning meetings in the office and site work at current construction projects. I help clients with specifications, which means in practice that I have a dialogue with users, designers and architects before and during a renovation. I currently have assignments from two other museums and a university. Finance, technology and purchasing are three important functions. Often the organisation has a good idea of ​​what and where they want to be, but do not know how to get there. My task is to find a practical route to reach the end goal, while questioning and developing new ideas along the journey.

You were the project manager for Nationalmuseum's renovation. What is the greatest challenge in renovating historic buildings?

- To succeed in improving the quality of the visitor experience in the context of the challenges and  opportunities presented by historic buildings. Visitor flows and logistics today often look different than just a few decades ago. It is therefore important that a historic building like Gustavianum functions in harmony with the activities that occupy the building in the form of exhibitions, shops and the programme of events. To my mind, visitors should perceive the building and the museum activities as a unit, as this tends to lead to a more interesting visitor experience.

A greeting from Max, architectural curator for the renovation of Gustavianum

Hi Max! You are an architectural curator with an assignment from SFV (The National Property Board of Sweden). What is your role in Gustavianum's ongoing renovation?

Gustavianum is a unique building of national historic significance. This means that it is protected by law and a permit must be obtained from the National Heritage Board before any change is made. My role is to contribute specialist curatorial skills to the renovation project. During the project design phase, this means that I support the architects and technical specialists in finding solutions that can be implemented without damaging the building's cultural and historical value. This can be anything from finding a good route for a pipe, to being involved in the development of suitable lighting for the stairwell.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

A typical day is very varied. In the morning, it could be office work or a meeting on a building site, while the afternoon is spent examining an old roof truss or perhaps researching the original colour of a door.

Have you found anything exciting during your work at Gustavianum?

Gustavianum is a very exciting building with, to say the least, a long and complex history. We have not even started the construction work itself yet, but we have already learned a lot about the building. For example, we have found many blocked openings and cavities that we are hoping to use to avoid making unnecessary new interventions in the building. However, probably the most interesting find came when we examined a previously little-known part of a load-bearing wall. The masonry is very uneven there and looks like a lot has happened to it. We believe that this is because the wall was damaged during Gustav Vasa's attack and siege of Uppsala in 1521 when the courtyard was ravaged by fire. It is said that Gustavianum, which was then known as Biskopsgård, was subsequently left abandoned for almost a hundred years. Another interesting discovery is that we believe that part of the sheet metal that still sits on the lower part of the cupola may be original, i.e. from the 1660s. It is one of the oldest exterior sheet metal cladding I have come across!

A new home for certain objects

When the Gustavianum Museum was opened in 1997, slate tablets were still used in the university's lecture halls. In the current renovation, Gustavianum wishes to reuse the equipment that does not fit in the updated university museum. The old slate board from the Auditorium Minus will find a new home at Glinet preschool in Luthagen, Uppsala.

Slate board from Auditorium Minus
Slate board from Auditorium Minus 

An update: What is happening?

Gustavianum is currently closed for renovation. The goal is to create a more professional and functional museum, with new exhibitions, stable environmental conditions that are optimal for the objects, and a security system that meets today's requirements.

But why does it have to take so long?
The renovation is a long-term project that requires meticulous preparation. The building itself is of major historic and cultural significance and its renovation must be carried out with the utmost sensitivity. At the same time, extensive technical investigation of the building is required before the desired functions of the new museum can be planned and implemented.

The necessary coordination and collaboration between the different actors involved in such a complicated project also takes time. Meetings and discussions between the University, the Swedish Property Agency, the National Heritage Board and a number of different architects, experts and consultants must all be scheduled to optimise the planning process.

At the same time, the objects in the collections need to be conserved and cared for before their inclusion in the new exhibitions, which will feature new displays, lighting, texts and digital presentations.

The result of this painstaking work and the many meetings is a robust and detailed foundation that will allow us to develop the new Gustavianum in the best possible way.

When will the museum reopen? 
The museum will open again at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024, when we will welcome everyone back with a series of new spectacular exhibitions. See you then!

One room at a time

Hi, Emma Hocker, Senior Conservator at Gustavianum and responsible for the museum´s evacuation.

How do you pack an entire museum?
This may seem like a huge, insurmountable task, but it really wasn´t. Since the displays were arranged thematically, it was logical to pack and transport room by room, according to each collection, with relevant curator present to help manage the process. We also had help from a number of student interns. Based on previous experience of packing and moving objects, we knew that it was better to have a smaller number of knowledgeable people packing rather than a large number of volunteers. Before we began, as a conservator, I arranged a couple of training sessions on how to pack objects safely, what packing materials to use and why. For instance, there is less risk of damage to an object if it is placed in a little “nest” of packing material, rather than wrapping it in layers of paper.

We employed an art handling company to help with heavy lifting and packing of the larger, more complicated objects and we also took the opportunity to photograph many of the larger objects from the Egyptian and Mediterranean collections before they went into storage.

How many objects have you packed?
Oh what a difficult question! I know I counted over a 1000 objects from the Egyptian and Mediterranean collections before we began, but then I trusted my curator colleagues to know their collections better. One of the complications is that some objects are composed of a number of parts, especially those from the history of science collections, so that a set of scales with accompanying weights may be counted as a single, or multiple, items. The curator knows best how such objects have been catalogued, so can give a more accurate count of numbers. However, I would estimate that we packed and transported more than 2000 objects, maybe 2500, depending on how you count!

Which object was the most difficult to pack?
Probably the main body of the Art Cabinet, as there are a number of carved and projecting pieces which had to be carefully protected with acid-free foam before being encased in a specially built transport crate.

Packaging of exhibited objects

Gustavianum´s renovation process began in autumn 2019 with the packaging of all previously exhibited objects. A time-consuming process that required great care and caution as in many of the cases the objects were very fragile. The University Museum has been helped by several talented students who have done an internship in the museum. One of these are Cajsa Olausson. 

Name: Cajsa Olausson

Education: Master's Programme in the Humanities, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University.

What have you learned? It's difficult to mention everything I've learned since it's so much! I have mainly studied the Nubian collection, which consists of vases, leather objects and bones, and I have learned to handle and digitize this material. I have gained an insight into how the work at a museum works and what a future profession in the museum world would look like.

What has been the most fun? The most fun has been to be a part of the unpacking of the exhibition Medelhavet and Nildalen. It was very fun to handle and study objects up close and I now know what a mummy smells like!

Last modified: 2022-11-28