Kunstmuseum Basel, a feast of archi…texture!

In the LinkedIn archipelago of corporate information, we seldom see any articles about the actual design or the details of projects that impact our living environment. This is quite strange considering that our lives, professional and personal, are intrinsically connected to the built environment in multiple ways, either whether we are participating actively in its shaping, or if we just experience it as end users.

In the pursuit of good design and construction quality, I’d like to start sharing my experiences from buildings or structures that catch my attention. This will, hopefully, open a dialogue and help identifying the attributes of good projects, not only in terms of aesthetics and functionality but also in terms of workmanship and combination of different materials and textures. The latter is something that still suffers in projects, despite the immense help of IT in the design and construction of buildings and structures.

Thank you for reading and, please, do not hesitate to contribute your own experiences, and, agree or disagree with my thoughts.

Some weeks ago I happened to visit Basel, taking advantage of an impromptu short break. Basel had always been on my to-visit list, as it is a well-known destination for architectural tourism (one of my favourite excuses for travelling!). The canton and its patrons invest seriously in the advancement of the building stock and have managed to create a city/architectural park comprising buildings designed by a wide array of architects, local or not.

Within this context, a new building has been added recently to the architectural map of Basel, namely, the new “extension” of the Kunstmuseum Basel (Basel Museum of the Arts). I’ve put the quotation marks as it is an independent building, though connected, and the third building of the famous art museum. It comes to fill a gap in the demand for a more versatile space, able to house alternating exhibitions. The two existing buildings, the original Kunstmuseum and its brother the “Gegenwart”, are mostly used to exhibit the permanent collections of the museum.The result is outstanding and both the design and construction team should be praised for the quality of detailing and the care that has been put in the realisation of this building.

The fact that the new museum is conveniently situated opposite the old building is not an accident. Maja Oeri, art patron and heiress of the Swiss pharma firm Roche, purchased and donated the adjacent property to the canton of Basel-Stadt allowing, thus, the museum to start exploring the options. Following an international competition which attracted famous contestants, the local architects Christ and Gantenbein were awarded the commission and created an astounding building. In a nutshell, the design and construction team consisted of the aforementioned architects, FS Architekten GmbH as the Construction Manager, ZPF Ingenieure AG as the Structural Engineer and Stokar + Partner AG as the Building Services engineer. Any other information is more than welcome as there is not much online, yet.

On the contrary, many things have been written about the need for an extension of the existing Kunstmuseum Basel, the restrictions of the building site, the need for a physical connection between the old and the new building and the way the architects chose to solve this intricate matter. What needs to be praised in this building, though, is the celebration of texture. The selection of the materials and the fabric of the building are as impressive as the attention to detail and the quality of the various interfaces. There is a great sincerity, an honesty in the choice of every material and the way their synthesis has been achieved. The rough plaster finish of the walls, for example, bonds harmonically with the smooth grey white-veined marble and the matt-finished steel galvanised components (balustrades and doors).

The architects have managed skilfully to immerse the visitor in a spatial and textural experience, rather than using the building’s scale as an easy impression trick. The gentle transitions between the spaces as well as the chromatic palette manage to create a calm feeling, allowing the visitor to contemplate and concentrate to the exhibits. Unfortunately, this was not the case for me. During my visit, the building monopolised my interest to the extent of almost, if not completely, ignoring the opening exhibition about the figurative period of Jackson Pollock.

 

Shamefully, rather than looking at Pollock’s art I spent my time wandering around, touching the building, feeling it, withdrawing to its farthest corners, trying to discover as much of it as possible.

Now, it might sound strange as a statement but I cannot refrain from saying it. Even if you don’t feel the call of nature while visiting the museum, you have to go to the toilet! The choice of colours and finishes is unique and, once again, the attention to the details is dominant. Everything has been designed and realised to the same care as the main spaces and this is really evident everywhere. The combination of smooth turquoise tiles with rough grey plaster is striking!

 

My only objection, if I’m allowed to have one, is the choice of the floor finishes at the exhibition spaces. The timber-resembling tiles are definitely durable and come with lower maintenance requirements in the long term. However, in such a building where sincerity of texture is so abundantly celebrated, the real thing would have been more appropriate. If I had to change one thing, then the floors would have to be timber…

 

Having said that, an interesting detail is the threshold of the door openings between the exhibition rooms. The door frame is taking the effort to go all the way around the opening, breaking the repetition of the floor tiles, allowing the eyes to rest and, ultimately, signify the transition from one room to the other.

 

It would be an omission not to mention the grey bricks that have been used to clad the facade. Once again, texture is the main discourse; the building stands as a sculpture on its own merit, inviting the passers-by to walk around it and develop a relationship with it prior to discovering its interior.

 

Another element of surprise is the hidden LED screen that goes round the building faces. Immersed into the grooves of the tiles, the “invisible” LED screen is a subtle canvas, as if carved into the façade of the building.

 

Ending this brief presentation I have to mention, once again, that the credits are deserved not only by the desginers but also the construction team that realised a project with a phenomenal level of quality of finishes. We all know from our project realities how difficult is to maintain an undiminished level of commitment to quality, as the project progresses and the budget, as well as the contractual “battles”, wear out the rigour of the construction team.

I am pretty sure that Uncle Ludwig would be very happy about the building and the presence of the divine superpower (or whatever you may like to call it) in its details.

Merry Christmas!

 

P.S. 1: All photos have been taken by myself, using a humble iPhone.

P.S. 2: A big “thank you” to the very kind and …patient personnel of the museum.

P.S. #3: Needless to say, the views expressed in this article are solely personal and reflect my own perception of the world…

 

The article was firstly published on my LinekdIn page on 25.Dec.2016.

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