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Cultural property shelters

Facade of the Cantonal Armoury in Sion ('Les Arsenaux'), which houses the Valais State Archives. This is a Type A listed building in the PCP Inventory © meier + associés architectes, Geneva

Cultural property shelters are protected underground depots. They are designed to ensure the safe storage of the most valuable collections of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, natural disasters and anthropogenic hazards.

The Confederation may pay the additional costs for construction and renovation of cultural property shelters for collections of national importance listed in the FOCP's Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Importance. Cantonal civil protection offices are entitled to apply for these subsidies.

The FOCP checks construction proposals relating specifically to cultural property to ensure compliance with technical and administrative requirements:

  • National importance of the collection;
  • safe building site based on cantonal hazard maps;
  • proof of necessity;
  • indication of linear and cubic metres;
  • emergency planning;
  • construction plans;
  • preliminary project with cost estimate.

Staatsarchiv_Wallis-de
Cross-section of the Cantonal Armoury in Sion ('Les Arsenaux') with the project to build a cultural protection shelter for the Valais State Archives. This is a Type A listed building in the PCP Inventory © meier + associés architectes, Geneva

FAQ

A cultural property shelter is an underground civil engineering structure designed to ensure the safe storage of movable cultural property in the event of armed conflict, natural disasters and anthropogenic hazards. Either the cultural property is brought to safety in such a shelter when endangered, or it is already stored there as a precautionary measure.

Legislative provisions on cultural property shelters can be found in the Federal Act of 20 December 2019 on Civil Protection (CivPA, SR 520.1) and in the Ordinance of 11 November 2020 on Civil Protection (CivPO, SR 520.11). The Federal Act on the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflicts, Disasters and Emergencies (CPPA, SR 520.3) contains no provisions on cultural property shelters. All legal requirements and construction project phases can be found in the guidelines, entitled ‘Cultural property shelters: construction of new refuges and repurposing of decommissioned protected facilities (2020)’.

According to Art. 91 para. 5 CivPA, the Confederation shall cover approved additional costs for the construction and renovation of cultural property shelters for cantonal archives ('State Archives') and collections of national importance (as listed in the FOCP's Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Importance) as well as for their equipment and furnishing. In accordance with Art. 86, para. 2, a lump-sum contribution of CHF 1,000 per square metre is paid to cover these approved additional costs. The cantonal authorities are responsible for building shelters to store cultural property of regional importance.

According to Art. 104 CivPO, cultural property shelters must provide basic protection against the effects of modern weapons, in particular against all effects of nuclear weapons and close impacts of conventional weapons. In addition, cultural property shelters must withstand natural disasters with a return period of up to 300 years without damage. Structural and organisational measures must also be taken to minimise damage caused by very rare events where the return period may be up to 1,000 years. In addition, the protective casing must be designed for a service life of at least 100 years. 

Under no circumstances may cultural property shelters be built above ground. In order to fulfil their purpose and comply with the minimum requirements of Art. 104 CivPO, they must be built underground.

Cultural property shelters include in particular stackable containers, racks, rolling shelves, sliding cabinets and wire walls for pictures. It is important that all furnishings provide mechanical protection that is suitable for the cultural property in question and that they are secured in a shock-proof manner. Materials and construction must provide the necessary physical and chemical stability over a service life of at least thirty years. Special vulnerabilities of the stored cultural property and specific local risks must also be taken into account. Equally important are the climatic conditions inside cultural property shelters. The construction of workplaces, plumbing and technical installations is not permitted in cultural property shelters.

According to Art. 89 CivPO, the FOCP decides whether cultural property shelters should be closed down. It only authorises the closure of a cultural property shelter if a shelter is no longer needed or if it no longer satisfies technical requirements and cannot be renovated. The cantonal authority must submit an application to the FOCP proposing an alternative storage location that meets cultural property shelter specifications. 

According to Art. 65 CivPA, the owner of a cultural property shelter is responsible for its maintenance. According to Art. 81 CivPO, the cantons are responsible for periodic inspections of shelters, which must be carried out at least once every ten years.


Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP Protection of Cultural Property PCP
Guisanplatz 1B
CH-3003 Bern

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Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP

Protection of Cultural Property PCP
Guisanplatz 1B
CH-3003 Bern