Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Messe Basel - when big architecture knows its neighborhood

    Mitch McEwen Apr 15 '13 1

    There is not much I could add to Herzog + de Meuron's own description of their Messeplatz Basel project, which is quoted in length here on Dezeen, along with photos.  Often in our field a project description can sound a bit like an artist statement, heavy on intent and concept, but maybe overblown compared to the everyday effect of whatever is built.  But the Messeplatz project delivers, even as Herzog + de Meuron states:

    The surrounding Kleinbasel district will also benefit from the continuing upgrade of the Messeplatz and, at the same time, regaining former exhibition areas to convert into apartments and offices that will contribute to Basel's urban development.  

    Indeed, walking from Claraplatz to Messeplatz - one epicenter of the artworld - the streetscape is surprisingly inconsistent.  Of course, the same was true of Chelsea until fairly recently, post-Highline.  Maybe I am reading too much into this sentence and the sensitive architectural strategies that I will talk about next, but I hope this conversion to 'apartments and offices' means an alternative to development-as-luxury-retail.  

    Contractors are everywhere on site, no doubt scrambling to get through their punchlist in time for Art Basel in June.  

    Architecturally: the facade, of course, is elegant and brilliant, totally necessary to both break up the huge mass and create an identity.  Because of the low scale of Kleinbasel and the orientation of the streets, the Messehall facade is clearly visible from at least Claraplatz, if not further.  The facade creates an orienting device in the city.


    But the most amazing effect comes from the big whole, an element that has diagrammatic clarity even on the scale of this Art Basel neighborhood plan.  This element is what Herzeg + de Meuron refer to as a "generous circular opening."  This opening defines an urban exterior space that includes new lounges and the existing tram stop.  It's hard to describe the simple wonderment produced, as you walk toward a giant building and then discover the sky, encircled in concrete, rail, and a vortex of woven silver.  Generous is an understatement.    


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Ongoing theory, travels, exhibitions, research, software. This blog started with research, theory topics, travel and architecture discoveries during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.

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