Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Messe Basel - when big architecture knows its neighborhood

    Mitch McEwen
    Apr 15, '13 12:23 PM EST

    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 hole, 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.    


    • was this "big whole," an intentional misspelling making a point perhaps about the wholeness of the hole...? is it similar to the Hirshhorn Museum then?

      Apr 22, 13 9:44 pm  · 

      Hello Nam, I am seeing your comment just now, months after the fact.  That was a total typo that I just corrected, but you are right, there is something there.  The effect is very much similar to Bunshaft's Hirshhorn.  It is about the wholeness of the hole, but especially so in this project, since the scale is so massive. 

      Sep 3, 14 11:26 am  · 

      I hope I can get back to Basel sometime, to see this, the Vitrahaus, Acteleon HQ, Roche Tower, and a number of other HdM projects completed there over the last few years.

      I do wonder, though, if the new facade acts as a better urban orienting device than the Messe Tower (still the tallest in town?), and how Messeplatz has changed with this reconfiguration. It was never a great urban square, but the sheer blankness of it allowed for some interesting installations of urban scale artwork, outside of the exhibition halls, free to the public. 

      I also wonder how this has affected internal orientation and wayfinding during Art Basel or other fairs. The old exhibition hall, with its circular courtyard (most likely an inspiration) was tough to navigate: with no external cues and a symmetrical configuration it was easy to get lost in the galleries... I'd guess having a linear hall with a giant hole cut through helps in that regard, and the 'public' hole vs the private court seems like a nice balance. 

      Sep 3, 14 5:18 pm  · 

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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