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

Hello Monika Frelin! You are exhibition designer/scenographer for one of the new exhibitions in Gustavianum. This exhibition was first produced as a travelling exhibition to tour museums in the USA. Now you are updating the content for the new Gustavianum.

Yes, that's right, there are new storylines to include in the exhibition and we are moving the focus to the site of Valsgärde. The Vikings Begin primarily highlighted travel and trade to suit an international audience. Now that we are back in Uppland, it feels fitting to highlight this fantastic site, its boat graves, and life in and around Valsgärde. It is also relevant to describe the 20th century excavations because visitors to Gustavianum can continue on to Gamla Uppsala, where they can experience the stories there.

The exhibition has been produced in close collaboration with researchers at Uppsala University. What form has this collaboration taken?

We have had meetings with the researchers in Uppsala, and we who work with the exhibition have access to and read the researchers' publications and other relevant literature. The researchers have contributed with suggestions about what to include and possible themes, and are responsible for the final review of content.

What is the difference between producing a travelling exhibition and a permanent exhibition?

Now that the exhibition is coming to Gustavianum, we are building for a longer lifetime: the exhibition does not have to be as flexible, but we have to consider that materials and techniques must be durable over a long period of time. A touring exhibition need to be robust enough to be repeatedly dismantled and rebuilt, but it will not be in place for decades, as a permanent exhibition could be.

What relationship do you have to the objects that will be shown in the exhibition? As an exhibition designer, you must spend a lot of time with them during the process of creating the displays and lighting.

The Valsgärde items are absolutely amazing! It is a privilege to have the opportunity to get up close to objects that are both unique and well-preserved. We work closely with the Museum's Senior Conservator Emma Hocker and colleagues, who are responsible for all handling of, and knowledge about, the objects. Our mission is to put them in a context that feels both exciting and comprehensible.

Hello Robin Lucas!

You are an archaeologist at Upplandsmuseet (the museum of Uppland County)  and responsible for the excavations carried out at Gustavianum during the last few months. Why have these excavations been necessary?

The excavations were needed because the National Property Board of Sweden is carrying out an extensive renovation of Gustavianum. In connection with the installation of air conditioning systems, new pipes needed to enter Gustavianum.

My colleague and I were present when the larger pipes were buried. In Sweden, archaeological sites that date from before 1850 must be examined by archaeologists if the ground is disturbed. At Gustavianum, we already know that there are older remains. In addition, the entire area lies within Uppsala's medieval settlement, which constitutes an ancient relic in itself. The National Property Board applied for permission from the County Council, which in turn contacted an excavating institution - Upplandsmuseet.

What have you found during your work?

We have found remains from at least three different buildings and loose finds in the form of coins and ceramics. By the north gable wall of Gustavianum were the remains of a medieval building. A little further north in the same trench we found remains of a road surface. Older maps show that there was a road, Rundelsgränd, here until University Park was laid out in the 1880s. On the other side of the road, towards the Ekerman Building, we found remains of a robust vault, which was probably the entrance to a cellar in another medieval building.

When we then continued the excavations, we found on the western long side an almost meter high, L-shaped wall  that continued under Gustavianum. The wall probably formed the corner of a medieval building that was demolished when Gustavianum was built. It may have been part of the so-called  Little Archbishop's Residence (a predecessor to the existing Archbishop’s Residence).

Further south there was another wall, which probably formed the inside of the free staircase that had previously been here. It was an external stairwell that was built in connection with the construction of Gustavianum and is depicted on older copper engravings.

How will the excavations be documented and will we be able, in the future, to see the smaller finds in a museum?

Now that we have completed the field archaeology at Gustavianum, a new work stage begins. The archaeological remains must be analyzed in relation to the historical information available about Gustavianum, and photos and finds must also be documented. All the results will be presented in a report on Upplandsmuseet's website in the autumn of 2023. Whether we get to see some of the finds on display remains to be seen, but they will definitely be made available via Digitalt Museum.

Caption: Robin Lucas uncovers archaeological remains next to Gustavianum's north gable wall. In the foreground you can see a medieval wall and beyond it an older paving, probably belonging to Rundelsgränd, which in earlier times ran here. Photo: Adam Hultberg, Upplandsmuseet.

Hello Jacob Hidemark!

Your firm - Hidemark & Stintzing – has overall responsibility for the architectural strategy behind the renovation of Gustavianum. What does that mean in concrete terms?

It means that we are responsible for the design in areas affected by the renovation. The strategy has been a balancing act between aesthetic, functional and heritage viewpoints. As both building architect and responsible architect, you have to treat a completely unique building such as Gustavianum with respect, throughout the entire processWe have been involved in the project from an early stage and have thus had the opportunity to learn about the building from the ground up. A project matures gradually through the designs and solutions being discussed, developed or rejected.

As we have already noted, Gustavium is not just any old building. What particular challenges are there with this project?

Gustavianum is a national heritage monument and that means it is protected from excessive changes. The biggest challenge has therefore been to ensure that the additions and changes needed for the technical installations, such as improved ventilation and fire protection etc., are as little visible as possible. For example, with respect to a door, the requirements for fire prevention, safety and accessibility are often contradictory. All these requirements must be met, through reflection and inventiveness, and be designed in the best possible way for the given situation.

The passage of time and  previous renovations have added new layers to the building’s history. What traces will the ongoing renovation leave behind?

The biggest change in terms of design is that we are creating a new main entrance on the west side of the building so that the museum will be accessible for everyone. The entrance level will have a new flow, with visitors led directly into a new reception and museum shop, from where they will move on to the exhibitions. Externally, the entrance advertises itself with a new glazed double door made of copper and a canopy roof that protects against rain.

In the stairwell, there will be additions in the form of new wrought iron gates and additions to the railings, which interact with the design from John Way's remodelling in 1842, when the dark burnished wrought iron in the railings and handrails was added. The graphic effect these provide is enhanced and developed through the new additions.

Is it correct that you personally were also involved in the last renovation of the Gustavianum in the 1990s?

As a young and recently graduated architect, I worked for a few years with my father Ove Hidemark, who was responsible for the rebuilding during the 1990s. I was deeply involved in the work at Gustavianum and made a large number of drawings that were executed. That rebuild has held up very well and very little from it will change. It is something of a déjà vu feeling to return to a project after so many years and see things that I helped to design a long time ago. It also provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate what worked well and what may need to be redone.

Archaeological investigation at Gustavianum

During the autumn of 2022, archaeologists from Upplandsmuseet, the County Museum of Uppland, have begun an investigation at Gustavianum. In connection with the ongoing renovation and installation of air conditioning systems, new pipes needed to be laid at Gustavianum. In the deep shaft dug for this work, the archaeologists found remains of two medieval house structures, 17th century coins, animal bones and medieval pottery. These investigations have now been paused but they will restart at the beginning of 2023, with excavations inside Gustavianum's basement. The responsible archaeologist from Upplandsmuseet is Robin Lucas.

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: 2023-09-13