Located on the site of the former Villa Caréol in the scenic Castagnola district, the Villa Heleneum project was conceived at the end of the '20s at the behest of Hélène Bibier, a Paris-based German dancer. Her intention was to create not only a private holiday home on the quiet shores of Lake Lugano, but also a cultura centred modelled after the 18th-century French salons: a lively meeting point for intellectuals, men of letters and politicians of the time. The design of the villa, entrusted to the Berlin architect Hugo Dunkel, was thus meant to evoke the 18th-century French atmospheres. Villa Heleneum is composed of three floors of large proportions and neoclassical style, expressly inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles. Completed in 1933, it is framed by the magnificent park with original art nouveau ornaments, and a rich variety of exotic plants and rare trees that grow around paths and belvederes.
Since 1967 Villa Heleneum belongs to the City of Lugano. Ever since it has hosted cultural events, just as Hélène Bibier first intended. For instance, it hosted courses of Ticino Institude of Advanced Studes in the '70s, but also seminars on artificial intelligence organised by Dalle Molle Institute. Then, since 1988 Villa Heleneum has been the seat the Museum of Cultures thanks to Serge Brignoni's large donation of his private ethnic art collection, now located in Villa Malpensata.