A Large-Scale Urban Project for Basel
The transformation of the former Dreispitz customs depot into a mixed-use urban district is one of the most extensive urban development projects in 21st-century Basel. The project is under the aegis of the owner of the land, the Christoph Merian Stiftung, together with the Canton of Basel-Stadt, and the Genossenschaft Migros Basel, which has been active in this location since the 1930s. The Dreispitz Nord project, forming the northern tip not only of the Dreispitz but of the entire agglomeration of the Birs Valley, has become part of downtown Basel. It is also the eastern continuation of the lively Gundeldingen neighborhood, dating from the late 19th century and identified by a largely orthogonal street grid.
From Competition to Zoning Plan
The 2017 competition entry for Dreispitz Nord has undergone detailed review and all aspects of planning have been further refined in close cooperation with planners, commissioning parties, and cantonal authorities. The competition jury participated in this process and the interests of local residents have been integrated. The urban parameters of the master plan have been carefully adjusted with regard to technical feasibility, particularly with a view to ensuring the uninterrupted operations of Migros (MParc) in the course of the transformation. Particular attention has been paid to traffic studies, the organization and development of parking facilities, parceling, and the distribution of uses. The Richtprojekt, as the sum of all these studies, will be the basis for the Bebauungsplan, the zoning plan, to be presented to the cantonal parliament in mid-2021.
A Paradox: Increased Density and More Open Space
The urban proposal for Dreispitz Nord is based on what would seem to be the paradoxical aim of developing and increasing density, while simultaneously creating large, public green spaces. The masterplan explicitly implements the specifications of the revised National Spatial Planning Act of 2013, which calls for increasing density in city centers in order to prevent further urban sprawl into the landscape. Density should be fostered where there is good access to public transport and an expedient balance between living and working.
Density is achieved by three high-rise towers and an open perimeter block of individual, tightly spaced mid-rise buildings. This block frames a publicly accessible park in contrast to the perimeter blocks in Gundeldingen with their primarily private inner courtyards. The round shape of the three high-rises establishes them as a family of buildings and their orthogonal inner structure, which is mirrored on the facade, relates them to the mid-rise buildings. The high-rise buildings, a striking feature of the Nordspitze, define the urban silhouette at a topographically significant location, where the Birs Valley meets the Rhine Valley. For some time now, urban density has also been increasing along the railroad tracks because of the territorial limits of Basel-Stadt.
These densely developed areas will now enjoy the company of two new green spaces, one at the end of Güterstrasse, resembling a typical urban park. A second green space will be located on the roof of the consolidated Migros complex, which will accommodate the MParc, the OBI, a DIY and garden center, and parking spaces, which are currently spread throughout the site. The green rooftop space introduces a typology thus far unprecedented in Basel and will contribute substantially to converting Dreispitz Nord into an open neighborhood with equal amounts of developed and green spaces. Including the roof of the MParc, over 80% of the total site area will be outdoor space accessible to the public. The diversity of developed and green typologies is mirrored in a rich mix of uses and activities: various residential forms, offices and commercial spaces, a middle school with a multipurpose gymnasium, a community center, and numerous public uses such as sports and recreational facilities.
The process of transformation in Dreispitz Nord was given detailed thought in the proposal. Throughout the process of development, a crucial idea was to take advantage of the mutual benefit between uses geared towards added value and socially oriented uses. Furthermore, structures of ownership/building rights grantees were disentangled and simplified so that construction can be organized in clear, flexible stages, giving both larger and smaller investors the opportunity to become involved in Dreispitz Nord. MParc and OBI will remain in operation during the entire process of transformation and will continue to be a decisive feature in shaping the character of the new neighborhood.
Two new Green Spaces
The Margaretha Merian Anlage resembles a traditional city garden and is flanked by mid- and high-rise buildings, accommodating a variety of public uses: on the ground floor, stores, cafés and restaurants, on the floors above, apartments and offices. A community center is planned where Güter- and Reinacherstrasse meet. The park has a large open lawn and wide-spreading trees, which can grow deep roots because the park will not have a parking garage underneath it. This versatile park is accessible to residents of both Gundeldingen and Dreispitz, and complements the rather sparse supply of “normal” open spaces in Gundeli, which has relatively few green areas relative to its population density.
The second publicly accessible open space for residents of the neighborhood and the city, the Adele Duttweiler Field, is situated on the roof of Migros. This elevated green space, surrounded by the roofs of the city and flanked by the hills of Bruderholz, is framed by a middle school and a multipurpose gymnasium and connected to Gundeli via a spacious, landscaped ramp leading down to Güterplatz. A second ramp folds down to Münchensteinerstrasse at the other end. The Adele Duttweiler Field offers a diversity of uses. In addition to outdoor spaces for the middle school, plans include public playing fields, community gardens, a diversity of recreational activities, and a youth center.
The historic Wolfgottesacker, a quiet, peaceful location, long separated from the city and hidden away between railroad tracks and the street, will now be complemented by the two new green spaces.
Migros and the City
Migros first opened a store in Dreispitz Nord in 1930, which has since become one of the most important and profitable points of sale in the region. This popular venue will now be transformed from a suburban type of shopping center into an urban anchor in the heart of a downtown neighborhood. Accessible by tram, Migros will be consolidated into a single building along with the OBI DIY and garden center. Shops, cafés, and restaurants, once inward-looking, will line an urban arcade as an extension of Güterstrasse. By opening up towards Dornacherplatz, the MParc and the shopping mall will also be connected to Gundeldingen in the south. Vehicular access, disguised by the large landscaped ramp, takes shoppers directly from Münchensteinerstrasse into the single-story parking garage on the third floor of the shopping center. There is thus a direct link between parking facilities and the shopping mall, Migros, OBI, and the Adele Duttweiler Field.
A Middle School on the Roof of a Shopping Center
On September 23, 2020, the government of Basel-Stadt, in collaboration with the Christoph Merian Stiftung and the Genossenschaft Migros Basel, announced that the roof of MParc Dreispitz shopping center will accommodate a Sekundarschule (middle school) for 600 students, as part of the overall transformation of Dreispitz Nord.
This positive decision to say “yes” to the stacking of uses in the city center and “yes” to the collaboration of institutions, private parties, and the government is of great significance and sets a precedent for future urban developments. The school will take on a central role in the master plan of Dreispitz Nord, exemplifying not only architectural densification but also the mix of social and functional uses in the new neighborhood.
Legal and financial forms of cooperation are essential to ensure innovative densification, reasonable land use, and preservation of green spaces by building on the built. Since the school needs to be operational as soon as possible, the government’s decision gives the development of Dreispitz Nord a push forward and reinforces the vision of high quality urban densification in Basel-Stadt and beyond.
The location of the school and a multipurpose gymnasium on the elevated Adele Duttweiler Field is ideal. In the evenings the gymnasium and playing fields can be used by sports clubs and associations, and for many other activities as well. The school’s athletic and recreation areas will occupy only part of the entire field. Gardens and other outdoor areas will be accessible to the residents of Gundeldingen and public at all times.
The school and gymnasium, located on part of the existing structure of the MParc, are planned as prefabricated, lightweight buildings.
Integration into the Neighborhood
Great emphasis is placed on the extension of streets, the layout of intersections and squares to accommodate pedestrians, and integration into the existing urban fabric.
The architecture of the buildings earmarked for these sites carefully takes the surroundings into account] and stimulates the use of public space. For example, the community center at Güterplatz and the new entrance to the shopping mall at Dornacherplatz establish a new connection with Gundeldingen. The height of the mid-rise buildings along Reinacherstrasse matches the height of the buildings across the street. The MParc facade, once a blind wall, will reveal the interior of the store, and the double-height setback on the second floor will provide outdoor space for plants sold by the OBI garden center.
Low-car Urban Neighborhood
The Dreispitz Nord project prioritizes non-motorized traffic. All of the parking facilities for automobiles will be accessed from the periphery so there will be very few points of intersection with cyclists and pedestrians. The center of the new neighborhood will be car free. The area is integrated into the larger network of bicycle routes, thanks to the new route on the former railroad tracks, and easily accessed by public transportation as well. Moving the “Dreispitz” tram stop to the end of Güterstrasse will increase accessibility even more. Altogether, these measures foster the development of a low-car urban district and ensure that traffic in the neighborhood remains tolerable despite its density.
The goal is to find new, contemporary typologies for the buildings. In scale and character, they will pertain more to the Dreispitz than to the late 19th-century buildings in Gundeldingen. Basically, three building types are planned for the new neighborhood. Mid-rise buildings up to 30 meters tall will flank Münchensteiner- and Reinacherstrasse with affordable apartments predominantly for families. The structure in the shape of a parallelogram and the small-scale faceting of the facades protect the apartments from noise. The three Dreispitz towers are topographically situated; as a group, they give the Dreispitz Nord an unmistakable identity and are inscribed in the skyline of Basel. To ensure the liveliness of the three towers, they will have a mix of uses: apartments, services, and offices on the upper stories; publicly accessible uses on the ground floors. This mix of uses will also be reflected in the architecture, lending each of the three towers a specific identity from up close. The school building and multipurpose gymnasium are planned as lightweight buildings, similar in appearance to the warehouses and industrial sheds in Dreispitz. The choice of wood as a possible building material could reinforce the contrast between stacked uses and lend the roofscape a seemingly rural character.
The exact size and height of the mid-rise buildings as well as their uses will be definitively determined at each stage of planning and in accordance with each investment unit. However, the location of the three high-rises and their relationship to the urban environment are fixed. They serve as anchors and points of orientation, functioning somewhat like gates to the new urban neighborhood. The Bebauungsplan will be implemented in the years to come by different architects and investors. In order to achieve the goal of “unity in diversity,” architectural guidelines will be applied that will counteract monotony and generate interesting relationships among and between the mid- and high-rise buildings.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2020