The origins of the School reach back into the 18th century – as incidentally is the case with similar schools elsewhere in Geneva, Zurich, Basel and Bern. In 1783, the famous Canton Nidwalden painter, Johann Melchior Wyrsch, proposed to the Lucerne City Council the foundation of a drawing school commissioned to instruct not only students of the city’s Institute of Higher Education – the forerunner of both the Canton School and the University – but also talented young artisans in drawing and modelling. At the time, Wyrsch was professor at the Academy in Besançon and returned to Lucerne to found the Drawing School. Supplied with copperplate engravings and plaster models bought in Paris with public funds, in 1784, he started to teach in what is now the Marian Hall of the old Jesuit Grammar School.
From Arts and Crafts to Design
One of his successors as drawing teacher, Seraphin Weingartner, completely changed the concept of the school when he founded the Lucerne School of Arts and Crafts. The Arts and Crafts Movement, which had begun in England, was a reaction to the decline of the manual crafts tradition resulting from the break-up of the guild system and the deregulation of the crafts trades.
The competition experienced by these trades from the industrial sector was also a factor in creating the new movement. Switzerland’s weak showing at the World Fairs, especially that of 1873 in Vienna, resulted in a number arts and crafts schools being founded, modelled on institutions of the same name in Vienna and Berlin. Whereas elsewhere in Switzerland these were attached to vocational or technical schools, in 1877, the Lucerne School of Arts and Crafts was founded and run as an independent institution – as was the case in Zurich a year later. Seraphin Weingartner headed the School until 1917/18 and was succeeded by Joseph von Moos, the father of Max von Moos.
After the Second World War, the profile of Switzerland’s arts and crafts schools changed, principally as a result of adopting teaching methods developed at the Bauhaus. But the status of the schools did not improve – in contrast to those abroad, where arts and crafts schools were considered institutions of tertiary education, and where former schools of arts and crafts became colleges of applied art or colleges of design. Some of them even became universities with the right to bestow doctorates. In Switzerland, initially only the name was changed, starting in the 1960s, to School of Design – as was the case in Lucerne in 1972.
Tertiary-level degree programmes in the form of Technical Colleges of Design were introduced only starting in 1984, as pendants to Colleges of Engineering or Colleges of Economics and Administration. The Lucerne School of Design offered a pilot class, through which it was able to award its first diploma at this level in 1988. From the beginning the Lucerne School also offered students seeking a career in the fine arts or a teaching qualification in art the opportunity to complete a preliminary degree programme in art. Whereas previously this was possible only at an academy or art college abroad, starting in the sixties the former sculpture class in Lucerne evolved into an autonomous degree programme in art. In 1988, the Canton of Lucerne was the first German-speaking Swiss Canton to create a Diploma in Fine Art. A Teaching Diploma in Drawing, and later in Drawing and Composition, had been introduced earlier.
Impulse for Reform through the Universities of Applied Sciences Act
With the passing of the Universities of Applied Sciences Act in 1995, Swiss education underwent dynamic changes, from which education in design and art also profited. Even though the new designation School for Design and Art, suggesting as it did a college of applied sciences, was not an absolutely satisfactory solution to the problem of international recognition of the School’s diplomas, it helped free up a backlog of reforms that had been building up for some time.
The University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Central Switzerland
Following a concordat of the Central Swiss Cantons, in 1997, the Lucerne School for Design and Art was incorporated into the newly founded University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Central Switzerland. As a result, a two-stage degree programme with bachelor’s and master’s degrees was introduced. In 2007, the renamed Lucerne School of Art and Design became one of the six Schools of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. In 2024, the school was renamed to Lucerne School of Design, Film and Art.