June 13, 2007

Basel 1 (Switzerland)

Basel, Switzerland... a tall glass of fresh water!

We arrived after an early easyjet flight that ended-up being delayed on the runway several hours. En route to the gate the reality of allowable carry-on baggage sizes in Europe came to light at the security cue: "ya've got too many bags mate... yer only allowed ONE... go back to check-in."

A few blocks from the SBB train station in downtown Basel was the YMCA youth hostel. It seemed more like a 3-star hotel than a hostel... sleek and minimal finishes, a large, naturally lit dining room next to a courtyard, free wifi, and a top notch espresso machine... we were impressed. With check-in we were given a mobility ticket that was good on all public transportation in Basel and its surrounding areas.. thank you Swiss Government!

Walking downtown later that night we stumbled upon the Architekturmuseum, which was coincidentally open for a new gallery showing, "
Instant Urbanism." We readily took advantage of the free admission and champagne. Inside there were some 'urbanism experiment' exhibits. In one, several downtown city blocks were completely carpeted (see photo... it is not photoshopped) to make them a more humane environment. In another titled 'Delete,' some German designers applied a 2mil yellow film over all advertisements on a city block to quantify the areas given to capitalistic promotion. Upstairs INSTITUT FUER FEINMOTORIK performed a live-act with an 8-turntable set-up.

Tuesday morning we embarked on our search for 'Swiss boxes." First up was the Jakob Burkhardt Haus by Zwimpfer & Partners, a sharply detailed project clad in undulating aluminum panels. The interior reflected the exterior's feel of clean finish and detailing... from the bold use of simple graphics and signage to flush base, minimal hardware and fixtures. Adjacent to this was the Peter Merin Haus (also by Zwimpfer & Partners), a similarly-scaled building clad with textured greenish glass panels spaced in front of cement panels. This provided a transparency to the building and a sculpted play of light.

Next was a revisit to the Zentralstellwerk, or Central Signal Tower by Herzog & de Meuron. Pragmatically it is a simple box, but through their clever use of gradational folds of twisted copper slats the form is boldly expressed.

We then took a tram to the Sportspark (H&dM also), which is undergoing a substantial addition to be completed by 2008 for international soccer tournaments. Arrays of bubbled translucent acrylic panels form the outer covering of the sportspark within and join disparate forms (An angular stack of offices over an entrance to a shopping mall at one end, and a large, transparent inflated signage structure at the other). Some of H&dM's earlier experimentation with injection molded forms can be seen in the concrete panels that clad the office mass.

The Schaulager Museum by Herzog & de Meuron is a deceivingly simple box from the exterior. Upon approach, varied textures and materials begin to reveal the sophistication within. Upon passing through rippled mesh-metal doors (reminiscent of sea water, see photo), the entry procession leads through a small terracotta aggregate clad concrete room, punctuated with natural lighting through (3) port holes above. Passing though another set of rippled metal doors, the procession then leads through a void space down a sloped floor plaza to a pair of smoked glass entry doors. Greeted by a large open atrium draped in stillness, the quiet beauty of the space begins to set in. Gallery exhibits comprise the entry-level and basement-level floors. Upper levels are seductively revealed through the atrium, but are inaccessible. (They are exclusively dedicated to housing 70 years work of art collection from the Emmanual Hoffmann Foundation in carefully monitored temperature zones).

As far as contemporary art museums go, we feel like this is one of the if not the best. One measure we use for gauging art exhibits and installations is how surreal and unexpected the works seem (how they resonate), along with the level of craft and care taken in expression. We were not familiar with Robert Gober, and were surprised to find that the entire gallery space was dedicated to some of his works (from 1976 to 2007). From internal struggles with sexuality (a glowing male torso in a fireplace giving birth to a clothed child's leg), utopian visions (a room surrounded on all sides with a lifesize paintings of a forest and lined with sinks on either side, faucets circulating water), and manifestations of portals to other worlds (most notably drains... drains in walls, drains in hairy male legs, drains in sinks). We could write pages about the individual spaces. Though the installations really need to be experienced in person,
this video clip gives some feel of the works. A theme that seemed to permeate all of his installations was transition. Most moving for us personally was a recent (2003) permanent installation comprised of a centrally located concrete statue of Sister Mary gored through the torso with a circular drainage pipe. Behind was a wooden staircase ascending to the ceiling, with water cascading down the treads. The statue sat atop a large steel street drain. Below the floor was a stream of water running over stones, sea anemones, over scaled coins reflecting in the light. Flanked on either side of the Sister Mary approx. 15m away were open suitcases on the floor, more street drains within revealing the utopia below. By crouching behind the suitcase and peering into the drain, the legs of a man that appear to be holding an infant over the stream partially comes into view. Unbelievable!

We knew the Basel posts would be long, but realize this is pushing it. Hopefully a few souls out there are reading this!

As for the remaining projects in this photo set, the alternately canted and angled facade is the office of Morger & Degelo (note the multitude of cables used for exterior screens... very slick). the green box is a less-impressive H&dM campus building (in our opinion... glass was too green, and garbage had collected in some areas between the suspended glass panels and metal frame behind), and finally, the Elassertor (also H&dM), with its impressive facade of alternately angled glazed panels, best viewed during sunset.


  1. Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

  2. todd,

    i need you to come back to work now.
    it's all just a dream, you really aren't looking at swiss architecture.
    besides what i do is so much sweeter.

  3. Ok, up until now its all been very inspiring and ideal and impressive... At this point I'm just envious and frustrated. I've been wanting to visit the Schaulager for years and yes, Institut Fuer Feinmotorik released one of my fave albums back in like 2001, not to mention the Carsten Nicolai. Guh! I'm going to the park to read under a tree in protest!


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