The two residential buildings line the banks of a small canal in the historic industrial district of Basel. Two mills that served the now long discontinued paper industry previously stood on this site. Accordingly, the buildings serve to fill a delicate historical gap in the St. Alban Quarter’s general makeup and Basel’s cityscape bordering the Rhine banks. The two interrelated buildings consist of different layers and follow simple, morphological rules. As such they are in keeping with commercial and early industrial buildings found in the St. Alban-Tal and which date to the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century.
The east building has three floors and stands on the outermost edge of the quarter. It follows immediately adjacent to the restored city walls and runs parallel to the Rhine promenade, which itself dates from the early twentieth century. The interior rooms facing the St. Alban-Tal adhere to a traditional floor plan with the roughly equaled sized rooms all arranged in a conventional manner. The circulation level and access area subdivides the building. The façade facing the Rhine unfolds in a series of loosely interconnected living rooms and kitchens. Different length ribbon windows disrupt even the unity of the conventional structure that defines the façade wall.
The west building consists of two floors and follows the banks of the former industrial canal. The skeleton structure of its west side, the side immediately facing the adjoining courtyard, has an increasingly refined structure. Its façade is non-load bearing and the floor plan unfolds independent of the support structure. Moreover, not unlike the east building, it has a sequence of equal sized rooms as well as a section that follows an unconstrained floor plan. This last space is dedicated to the communal living space of the apartments. Large windows fill the openings of the cement frame structure in the east façade and look out onto the canal. With their size and placement, they variously define the relationship that exists between the building’s interior and the external courtyard. They are arranged to give the sense of an arbitrary window composition shaping the façade. A plaster stucco wall with various openings that serves as a screen for a series of columns brackets the building overall.
At the time of construction, the buildings drew vociferous and conflicting public reactions. The outrage voiced by many seemed to stem from the fact that these new residential buildings did not seek to hide the early industrial character that defines this neighborhood.
Competition: 1st prize, 1981
Client: Christoph Merian Foundation
Location: St. Alban-Rheinweg, Basel, Switzerland
Gross Floor Area (GFA): 2.450 m²
Use / Function: 13 apartments, 4 ateliers, Eastern building: 7 apartments, 4 ateliers, Western building: 6 apartments
Structural Engineer: Léon Goldberg
Mechanical Engineer: Bogenschütz & Bosch