The Villa Planta, named after its owner Jacques Ambrosius von Planta, was built between 1874 and 1875 as a private residence, by the architect Johannes Ludwig. The neoclassical style and distinct square design give full expression to the splendid front façade, with its portico and supporting columns being a prominent feature. The two sphinxes either side of the steps, the Pompeian art work in the entrance hall and the decorations on the golden dome reminiscent of the Byzantine style, are all proofs of the owner's prolific commercial dealings in the Egyptian world. This strong tendency towards a 'Middle Eastern' style is embodied by the clear half-moon shape at the top of the dome.
In 1898 shortly before his death Jacques Ambrosius von Planta sold the house to the Rhaetian Railway who from 1919 on leased it to the Canton Graubünden for cultural purposes. 1957 the property was finally acquired by the Canton Graubünden.
In 1927, whilst the Villa Planta was being adapted to meet the requirements of an art gallery, the collections of natural history were housed in the new natural history and national park museum, originally designed by the architect Walther Sulser and standing directly next to the Villa Planta. Finally in 1981 the natural history museum moved into its own premises and the simple 2-storey building, the Sulser building as it was called then, was joined to the Villa Planta by a walkway and from that point on was used purely for temporary exhibitions from the art gallery.
At the beginning of the 1960s the Villa Planta was in alarming structural condition. At that time a renovation and reconstruction was considered, and there was even a discussion of totally demolishing the Villa Planta in favour of a new building. At the beginning of the 1980s after numerous political disputes the administration launched an architectural competition for the restoration of the Villa Planta and for a structural extension of the Art Museum Graubünden. However, the council did not respond to the suggestions and decided to simply renovate and restore the Villa Planta. The necessary credit was finally granted by a large majority of the voters of Graubünden. After scarcely three years of restoration and renovation of the Villa Planta under the supervision of the architects collective Peter Zumthor, Peter Calonder and Hans-Jörg Ruch the Art Museum Graubünden was again opened with a festive inauguration at the beginning of the year 1990.
Villa Planta alone does not supply sufficient space for the museum’s continually growing collection. In addition to this, the museum’s interest in mounting temporary exhibitions has increased. Therefore, the demand for an extension building became increasingly acute. In 2011, architects were invited to submit proposals for an international architectural design competition. It was won by the architecture firm Estudio Barozzi/Veiga based in Barcelona. The clarity with which this proposal fitted into the existing architectural environment made it particularly convincing. The character of the new building is not that of a solitary landmark, entering instead into a dialogue with Villa Planta. Two buildings side by side conjoin to make a museum. The magnitude of the rooms is suited to the collection and, for temporary exhibitions, the open spatial structure is felicitous from a functional angle as well, allowing the necessary concentration on art at the building’s core.