Herzog & de Meuron
Project
1991-1992

The urban study for Basel, entitled “A nascent city? An urban study on the Trinational Agglomeration of Basel“, is based on observations and descriptions of existing political, environmental, and urban structures. On the basis of these observations, a possible future image of the city has gradually and almost self-evidently emerged. A reordering of the urban spatial relations between the various agglomerations, which are today distributed amongst the three countries of Germany, France, and Switzerland, will be supported by the future removal of the current boundaries in Europe. The urban study consists of texts, plans, and photomontages.
Herzog & de Meuron, 1992

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Process

This urban study poses the question from the very beginning: Basel – a nascent city? The question rises, first of all, with regard to the location of the study and the method of our approach. In order to gain access to the local situation, at first a series of observations guided us along the border lines of the city. These geopolitical observations indicate that the borders are not only a political fact but also an urban reality that concern every-day life. The border lines are built up almost like fortification lines. They are occupied by structures such as cemeteries, harbor basins, a psychiatric institution – all of which remain inaccessible for the city’s inhabitants on both sides of the borders in their day-to-day lives and, therefore, have the same effect as a security zone; almost a kind of urban stronghold. Instead of connecting urban areas which would provide the means of exchange and communication between the quarters, communities and boroughs on both sides of the various communal, cantonal and national borders, one can find here precisely those urban facilities that are perfectly suitable for breaking up the continuity of the city in a highly concentrated and seemingly systematic and strategic arrangement. The present study introduces tangible urban concepts. They concern the expansion and addition to or the compression of the existing urban structures, as well as the expansion and transition of today’s undifferentiated and unconsciously used urban interstitial spaces into public areas.

We have approached the urban agglomerate of Basel like strangers – observing and wondering, not considering the building laws and zoning plans. We were interested in the physical reality of the city, which is the starting point of our thoughts and projections. We did not come up with a unified and binding plan. Our plan is actually many plans and many cities all uniting into one city, all adding to each other, with contrasting tempo, economics and cultural significance. There is no special preference given to certain areas, and no exceptional locations, whether on French, Swiss or German territory.

The area for which we have developed these plans and urban concepts is therefore characterized by a multitude of zones; an accumulation. They are spread out through the entire expanse of Basel, or more precisely, they form the Basel agglomerate. Upon closer inspection, it isn’t really an agglomerate, i.e., an accumulation of settling points developing like satellites around a single center. Rather, it is a conglomerate, i.e., an accumulation of politically, culturally and economically mostly independent heterogeneous parts. Of course, from a historical viewpoint, Basel is the true center and core of this tri-national, urban conglomerate of approximately 500.000 inhabitants. However, contrary to other cities of comparable size, this central position is not a political reality, and no inhabitant of St. Louis or Weil or Lörrach would name Basel as his hometown if asked about it somewhere abroad. He would instead struggle to describe the border location of the three countries meeting at this point.

The goal of our urban concepts is a concentration of the given conglomerate structure rather than a striving for an agglomerate, centrally and one-sidedly referring to the core city of Basel. The casual and relaxed structure of the connecting forces, which are typical characteristics of a conglomerate, should be the prevailing specific urban expressions of this region in the future, as well.

At the same time however, the urban concepts want to attain something purposeful, something consciously urban. Places which, in the past, only related to themselves within their own limits, shall be able to enter into new urban spatial relationships in order to be a quarter-specific expression as well as part of a unifying city space. Our concepts are not based on freely invented ideas or ideas derived from a specific urban theory as is the case, for example, with the city of enlightenment or the city of the modern age or the city of a mighty ruler. We don’t have an urban idea or a preconceived intention; such an idea would always be betrayed by the political, cultural and economic reality of Basel. It also wasn’t even necessary to develop an idea. The city, or rather, an illustration of the future potential of this city revealed itself to us as our observations and descriptions of the existing urban realities progressed. We discovered that the distinct structures of the quarters resembled the various crystallized forms of the city’s transitional process. We discovered the railroad tracks, seemingly imitating the flow of the Rhine river like an artificial river system. We discovered that parts of the city whirled into the side valleys of the Rhine, hardly organized and less densely structured and populated. The observed and described urban conglomerate started to show itself – even though unclear and pale at some points – as a kind of expression of the existing natural space. The natural space – the valleys, hills, the Rhine with its unmistakable bend and the wide Rhine plain above this bend – again seemed to manifest itself more clearly and unequivocally at those places where the city expresses itself clearly and enters into a new specific relation with this domain that nature created. The relationship of city space and natural space thus comes ever more into the foreground of our observations. The future image of the city, arranged as it is in today’s unclear structures of the quarters and suburbs, revealed itself, almost as if it were self-understood. It unveiled itself as an image on photographic paper slowly lays bare its hidden secrets in the darkroom of the photographer. The image, which started to come into being, resembled, more and more, an image influenced by the naturally given space. The natural space started to disappear and then reemerged in a transformed, architecturally designed form, expressed by the ever more clearly defined city structures. In contrast, today’s existing picture of the city, where the artificial, undifferentiated mass of buildings ignores the run of the valleys, the ascent of the hills, the bend of the river, started to fade, allowing the newly evolved image to stand before us ever more clearly and inseparably connected with the picture of the natural structures and spaces.

1. The given natural spatial structures. Plan of the topography and waters. 2. The given urban structures. Plan of today’s tri-national urban conglomerate. 3. The given political structures. The borders within the Basel agglomerate.

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This apparent paradox – that nature is transformed into city and, during the process of development, the city adapts and fills the form of the natural space which it subverts and grows into, becoming a natural form – has become an impressive reality only in a few cities, such as Venice and Manhattan.

In these examples, the cities have completely taken possession of the natural space up to, and in some cases even a little beyond, the last piece of river bank. The houses in Venice seem to float on the water; the earth as pillar, as structural element, has disappeared. Nature is, at no place in the city, visible in its original expression. At the same time, the city shows itself as a homogenous mass of buildings that has taken over the once natural terrain and now redraws the natural contours of the island. It imitates nature’s forms. The mass of buildings – palazzi in Venice and skyscrapers in Manhattan – appear to be an expression of the spatial, topographic preconditions, condensed into volume. The buildings have completely and inseparably united with the island’s ground whose once natural form is now only lightly embossed on the city’s image. The city is recognizable and identifiable by the natural form beneath it. It is thus no longer an independent entity, opposed to nature in a dialectic form; city and natural shape have become identical. In these two cases, the improbable has become reality: The city, which normally can never be built to conclusion, has indeed come to an end in Manhattan and Venice. Certainly, some architectural operations are still being carried out. However, this is true only in the sense of how one would repair or replace teeth in dentures. The urban intention has been fulfilled. It has been completely expressed. The possible picture of the city is completely visible. It does not allow for any changes and can no longer be improved. The city can only be abandoned, destroyed or constantly renewed in order to make the glimmer of yore become consumable. The process of urban development is, like the crystallization process of a chemical substance, brought to completion. All of the energy necessary to move this process along and intensify it in order to finally attain this crystalline pureness and urban clarity now dissolves without effect and can no longer be implied or used in the everyday operation of the city. It loses its self-understood urban multitude and will for renewal; it becomes a place for art lovers and tourists and thus a special territory, a special case.

The more clearly we recognize such a possible future community image of the city through our observations, where natural and urban spaces would be inseparably related, the clearer Basel’s current situation can be read. The tri-national urban conglomerate has not yet become a tri-national city. The various and more or less urban accumulations of the city conglomerate are often lying side by side without movement or relationship, as we saw in our earlier geopolitical observations. Some almost seem to be brought into the urban entity like cells of defense, in order to disrupt or interrupt a threatening, yet obvious, connection.

At many places, where changes are about to occur and even seem to push their way in, the urban conglomerate is unfinished and undecided. Perhaps it is a city coming into being. Perhaps it is only a coincidental accumulation of individual communities, which, rejecting and limiting each other, withdraw into their own valleys.

1, 2. The island towns of Manhattan and Venice transform the natural space into city space. 3. The border grounds of the quasi-canton city of Basel.

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Isolationism as an urban principle?

Can it be true that the modern urban planning of Basel and the relationship of the city to its surroundings has developed out of a consciously or unconsciously imagined concept of the stereotypical fortress?

This fortress would be, first of all, marked by a dense, active and creative inner area, whose egotistical centripetal force absorbs and swallows the energies of the environment. Secondly, it would be limited by strongholds, ramparts and motes, enclosed from what they keep at a distance, separated from what they exclude, protected and declassified by introducing a difference between a devalued outside which is rejected and an inside whose value has increased. And thirdly, this fortress would have a couple of tentative and fearful gates, safeguarding the control and command over idealistic and materialistic exchanges. Let us examine the common border to France. Part of this border follows the middle of the Rhine. The separation seems to be natural. It is geometric and precise, as well as just. There is nothing to say against it, the border understands itself as a given. The river is wide and open and one can see what’s coming up. The border, therefore, can be controlled and is safe. And yet the entire right river bank is occupied by harbor facilities and high storage tank buildings which disappear as soon as the opposite bank is no longer French, but belongs to Basel. To the outer North lies the large harbor basin constructed parallel to the Rhine which, together with the river, creates an island. It is an island for loading and unloading ships and, at the same time, a demarcation island behind which the city withdraws, seemingly sheltering itself. At the extension of this island there is also a huge storage tank complex with its railroad system, enclosed by mesh and barbed wire and oriented towards France. This ugly, repelling and dangerous – and also not very inviting – area ends about one hundred meters south of the point where the Franco-Swiss border line leaves the middle of the river, turns at a right angle and leads to firm ground via the left river bank of the Rhine.

1, 2. Storage tank buildings and harbor facilities on the Swiss side and industrial plants on the French side of the Rhine.

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This area is so intimidating that the only response by the French neighbors consists of a couple of industrial plants and a deserted, run-down strip along the river bank. The public has no access to the river bank with its storage tank complex and railway system. There is no actual prohibition, but simply safety measures due to the use of more or less critical technologies and the practice of trade activities. It is a banal inevitability from which the working city dweller cannot escape. The river is inaccessible; one can recognize it only for a few short moments. One knows that it is there and that’s enough. The Rhine at this location is being mistrusted because it is not the river that one loves. It is not the Rhine of the city center that connects the two enclaves and which one can actually swim in with enjoyment. Opposed to this, the Rhine is unrecognizable up and down the river. It is considerably different – it has a different nature. Outside the walls – or better – outside the bridges, the river comes from somewhere and, at the same time, leads to somewhere. It comes from another place and leads to another place. Although the river does flow in the city, it seems to do so standing still. It moves forward without going anywhere. It can be trusted. Here, it is much a place of enjoyment, relaxation, strolling, and sports activities rather than a place of work. Even the river ship-men, crossing the city on their monotonously painted barges, take on a relaxed attitude here. Above and below the city, the river is a natural phenomenon as well as a transportation route, it is a means of transport and a work instrument at the same time. The water has a more deceitful appearance there; it seems to be colder and even its color is different. In the city, the Rhine belongs to the two enclaves surrounding it. Here, it belongs only to the city. Above and below the city, nobody owns it exclusively. At one moment, it belongs to the Swiss and to the Germans, then to the people living in Basel and the people of the suburbs, then to the French and the Basel inhabitants or to the French and Germans. This moody Rhine, succumbing and refusing itself, is unpredictable.

But there is more. Within the bridges, the Rhine is an indivisible unity. The water surface and right and left river banks are inseparably connected because each element points to the others. The water is unthinkable without the banks, a bank unimaginable without the opposite bank or the water flowing in between. One river bank is worth as much as the other and both together are accomplices of the same water flow. The water surface unites what seems to be divided.

Outside of the bridges, the Rhine is a heterogeneous amalgam consisting of three components: the water flow, and the two river banks. The river doesn’t only separate; it divides, cuts in half, keeps apart, presses and pushes in between, blocks the way and, with its entire width, holds two countries which, were it not there, would touch and be one. Each bank is leading its own existence. The water flow is its own thing and so is the French river bank, the Basel bank is a third. If one looked for the Rhine of the city, one would look in vain. What exists outside the bridges is something else – it’s another thing. In this other thing, each river bank is part of a specific geographic reality.

In reality, one can differentiate not only three, but six different things within this heterogeneous amalgam: two river banks, a water flow, two composed units, each consisting of a bank and the bordering part of the water flow. And finally, the middle river zone. It is undefined, unclear, undecided, and is related to neither one bank nor the other.

Also, each bank belongs to a different geopolitical reality. The division is complete. The river is cut into pieces between two sociocultural spaces. Paradoxically, the middle border line is the only element connecting both sides; however, it is purely idealistic and as immaterial as the theoretical geometric line. At most, its purpose may be the creation of order on a geopolitical map.

However, what counts for the people isn’t the idealistic invisible and untouchable border in the middle of the river, but rather the concrete, firm and steady river bank on which they stand. By approaching the viewer standing on the bank, the idealistic border leaves an emptiness behind in the middle of the river. This wet nothing is a different world. It’s a world in between two institutionalized worlds; a kind of third world belonging to the passing ships. By becoming more concrete and duplicating at the river bank, the border is moved to the inside of the country. This appropriation is soothing for two reasons, the first of which has already been mentioned. A physical border is believable whereas the border in the middle of the river is an idea which one can neither see nor touch and which one cannot confront. The second reason is that the immaterial border of the river middle, depending as it is on an international agreement, is prescribed rather than welcome. On the contrary, the physically experienced border manifests itself on the river bank in the form of the storage tank facilities, railroad systems, the island and the harbor basin. It depends only on the enclave and nothing else. Such a border is the tangible proof for one’s own sovereignty. The sacrifice of the river bank wasn’t in vain as the feeling of being home depended on it. However, has it really been such a big sacrifice? At this point the river is not the river of the city and it isn’t loved. Not being able to get to it is no loss. What’s the use of watching it – one prefers remaining at a distance. In this way, the confrontation with the other river bank is avoided. Seeing it would be proof of how closed in one’s living one really is. And, by the way, the inhabitants of the enclave know it. The mesh and barbed wire around the industrial area at the river, representing a reflection of the border to the inside, is, at the same time, a trick. This border erected in front of the border is nothing but a fata morgana – a false border – calming and idealizing at the same time. On the one hand, the real, yet immaterial border in the middle of the river lies somewhere beyond the impermeable industrial area in the mythical place of wet formlessness. Exactly where is totally unimportant. On the other hand, the enclave becomes a floating place without anchor in the real world, a somewhere or nowhere. Confirmation for this border duplication and materializing on the firm ground while pushing the other countries far from itself into unreality, is the huge sign pointing out the ‘Three-countries-corner’ (Dreiländereck) on the Northern tip of the island between river and harbor basin. The immaterial border point at which three countries meet in the middle of the river is drawn out to the firm ground along the line cutting the border angle in half in a way that its materialization on Basel territory is at the same distance to France and Germany. One could believe the politically neutral small enclave to be the guardian and guarantor of this point. Finally, if one considers the fact that the inside edge of the harbor basin represents the border of Basel – which is not illogical, given one thinks of the strategy of the border duplication to the inside – then the huge sign symbolizing the encounter of three countries, is at the same distance from the three borders.

Harbor basin, storage buildings, oil tanks and railway systems are Basel’s answer to the presence of France in the middle of the river. Across from the point where the Franco-Swiss border bends away from the opposing river bank and continues on firm ground, across from the point south of which the river is undivided and belongs to the city, the area forbidden to the citizen loses width while the Rhine narrows and slowly becomes an accessible reality which finally can be followed. However, the river bank parts lying across from one another, where the fenced in buildings of the chemical complex Ciba-Geigy and the chemical enterprise Sandoz and the harbor are located, is hardly more hospitable.

The city along the Rhine

Without the bend of the Rhine, the city of Basel would not exist: Without it, the city would not have had its origin at this point, but rather somewhere else. Rather, where the Rhine finally would have decided to turn North; wherever the river would have found the decisive geological weak spot in the rocks of the old mountain chain of the Vosges and the Black Forest. Perhaps there would have even been a ford, a fit location in the river facilitating the crossing from one side to the other. However, the bend is decisive. A bend is a typical place, an unmistakable and distinct mark of nature. The Rhine’s knee is a sculptural event, a kind of urban idea of nature.

1. The city along the Rhine: future and existing quarters form a curved urban space along the river.

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The bent urban space along the Rhine therefore marks what is indisputably the most impressive location-specific urban experience of Basel city. The consequential erection of piers at the end of the last century was a decisive urban achievement. It was the precondition for the various quarters to be connected to the river space of the Rhine in order to communicate with each other along the river and by means of the bridges which represent an integrating urban component of the pier system.

1. The course of the river creates a curved city space whose different quarters meet at the Rhine.

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This was a successful attempt to express the uniqueness of the city in an architectural form. Here, new and old quarters – the medieval city and the quarters of the 19th and 20th centuries – as well as the large-scale industrial buildings of the chemical industry, are all bordering the river space. This curved space never reveals its beginning and its end at the same time. A part of the city, a continuation of its silhouette, always remains hidden behind the curve. From the Three Roses Bridge (Dreirosenbrücke) one cannot see any farther than to the cathedral. Standing at the Solitude, the continuation of Großbasel below the Wettstein bridge remains hidden. However, from whatever viewpoint, the city shows itself as a conglomerate of architecture from all epochs of the city’s history. Such a spatial experience is only possible because of the consequential development of the city along the flow of the Rhine river. The thus evolving curved architectural space takes up the flow of the river, showing it spatially. The city’s architecture becomes a geometric expression of a natural form – the form of the Rhine. Basel can be recognized, understood, and overlooked due to this clear and distinct urban relation of the various quarters to the Rhine. Conversely, all these quarters – these towns within the city – become real places only through their encounter with the river, clearly placed parts of an urban topography. Yet above and below the city center where this development along the river is absent, the city seems to fall into pieces, dissolving or withdrawing into the Hinterland. It seems to have ceased.

1, 2. Proposals for a linear quarter structure in which high rise buildings confront the existing buildings on the other side of the Rhine.

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Does the countryside or the suburbs or nature begin there? The city withdraws from the river, from the water, from the traffic on it, and from the ships. Why? Was it the fear of pirate attacks like the old cities on the ocean which, for that reason, withdrew to the Hinterland? Or, as could be assumed from the example of Weil and Huningue or Birsfelden/Sternenfeld, was it due to a mutual fear of contact or a shyness to face each other and, challenged by a connecting bridge, with the resulting anxiety of having to enter into a relation with each other? Or maybe it was even out of respect for creatively participating in the noble silhouette of the Rhine, a privilege only of the city inhabitants of Basel? Or, on the contrary, was it because of an aversion to the possibility of becoming an active and self-conscious part of this city; a part of this urban conglomerate along the Rhine? Or is today’s situation already such a habit that a change is unimaginable? Are the public spaces, sports facilities, family gardens and biospheres not able to exist somewhere else or even at the same place in a changed form and arrangement? Does urban development nowadays only follow the possibilities of daily politics? Has a view of the topography of the entire city lost all sense? Is it undemocratic or, at the very least, naive?

The curved city space along the Rhine, however, is such a clear and impressive urban given that its continuation and addition on both sides of the river appears to be self-understood for the future.

The city along the railroad system

On Basel’s map, the large organic forms of the railroad system and tracks are clearly visible. Like an artificial river system, they weave their way through the crystalline formations of the adjacent quarters. In our pictorial comparison between city/culture and landscape/nature, the city would correspond to the given landscape – the Rhine plain – and the railroad system would find its analogy in the river, the Rhine. Indeed, the railroad system on both sides of the Rhine follows the run of the river and redraws it and, like the river, the railroad system widens in various places: there are stations, switching yards, and depots. On the river there are ponds and lake-like widenings and tributaries. The movement of the trains, as well as the water, slows down in these respective places. A river models and changes the topography of its landscape. It creates breaks at those places where the geological layers are especially prone to erosion and conversely it is held up, dammed or rerouted in places that are more robust, that oppose an unhindered flow and spatial expansion. Here as well, a comparison between the city and the railroad system is at hand. The resistance of geological layers forcing a river into a bed, a gorge or a curve, corresponds to the economic and urban spatial conditions. The more the economic and political pressure in a city increases, the more its form crystallizes and compresses into compact, closed blocks where the terrain is vague. The coincidental space in between fills up and finally disappears completely.

These urban crystallization processes are visible on maps of Basel, e.g., at the Spalenring, which came into being through the transformation of a section of railroad into an urban Boulevard when the French railroad line was moved further out toward the periphery in order to escape the pressure of the city. Within this crystallization and concentration process, the tracks seem to develop an increasing magnetic force. Where, in the past, only railroad architecture existed – stations, storage buildings, etc. –, new buildings suddenly spring up and seem to turn toward the tracks, orienting themselves with the tracks like with a river, while the older buildings with their coal-dirty fire walls always seem to turn away from them. These older buildings along the urban rail- road system, the last and outer row of their respective quarters, often give the appearance of being damned to endure the fate of rejection, poverty and dread. In their melancholy and hopelessness they literally lie “beyond the seven tracks”.

With the increasing magnetism of the railroad system, its relation to the adjacent urban development changes as well. The latter is no longer associated with noise, bad smells and it is no longer a traffic-enduring “victim” of the railroad system, rather it approaches the status of having desirable building plots and an advantageous location in a demanding and challenging way.

1. The city along the railroad tracks: future and existing quarters next to, above and in the midst of the railroad tracks.

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The powerful magnetism and the crystallization along the railroad system thus demands an urban effort for a specific quarter structure which would express the flowing and linear connection – typical for this location – in an urban and functional way. Working out a specific quarter structure – on, beside and within the railroad system – is therefore closely connected to the development of a concept for the public space redefining the connection to the existing city space. The main thrust of this public space to be created is along the railroad system. This space – like the railroad system itself – forms a permanent and endless form. In the city area, where the urban agglomerate is more concentrated, this public space parallel to the railroad system is accompanied by buildings and streets. Outside the city agglomerate, the railroad system separates again from its accompanying, embracing city space to dive into the natural space of the Rhine plain. The new public space to be created along the railroad system resembles a Boulevard, formed out of new and existing street sections, buildings, alleys and parks. It is therefore a condensed and concentrated urban excerpt from an endlessly long connection of railroad systems in and beyond the Rhine plain. It is a piece of the city and, at the same time, a section of a joint European city, connected by the public space of the railroad.

1. Condensed urban excerpt of a multinational branched structure of tracks. 2, 3. Suggested consolidations at the cargo station Auf dem Wolf and the future tram station St. Johann

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The circular city, southern limit of the ladder-formed city in the upper Rhine valley

The natural spatial conditions have, in the past, decisively influenced the location and connection of settlement points, i.e., the cities, villages and hamlets. In the surrounding area of Basel, these topographic preconditions show that in the side valleys of the Rhine and, above all, in the Rhine plain itself, linear rows of villages and small towns reaching into the landscape primarily developed. Such linear settlement points can be recognized at the upper Rhine as typically characteristic of the settlement structure and urban development. The community structures, lined up like links on a chain, are generally interconnected by cross streets, and less frequently by thin ribbons of settlement. Even on the city map of Basel, where village structures once belonging to the countryside have condensed into the city conglomerate, linear structures can be almost exclusively observed, meeting each other coincidentally and in a complicated way.

This continues on into the medieval city where the innermost settlement core, as well as the later gothic suburbs, were erected along the given arterial roads and out again to the quarters which were formed only during the past few decades in the side valleys of the Rhine. Only some quarters, from the 19th and 20th centuries, developed not as primary linear growth structures but were instead designed as connecting, tangential or circular quarter structures. Clearly visible on the city map, these circular connected quarters of Großbasel give a geometrically clear impression of city districts precisely and purposefully adjoining each other. Indeed, the impression gained by reading the map is confirmed in the actual city space. The quarters and their mainly circularly connecting streets follow a specific urban spatial concept. A precondition for the formation of these quarter structures was the removal of the city walls and the filling of the moates, which immediately gave the city planners a circular area of city land lying transversely opposed to the former linear main axes. At another point in the city ground plan, the displacement of the French railroad line was the precondition for the construction of a circular street, interconnecting the city’s quarters pushing toward the west.

The circular city: future and existing quarters supplement each other, creating a circular urban shape.

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It appears as though the linear city structures evolve in a kind of wild growth along the old country roads and paths. Interweaving and cross-connecting circular city structures can develop only from an urban idea; a view for the whole, coming out of an interest for the city as something purposefully interconnected – not something accumulating at free will.

This juxtaposition of planned and connecting city structures with wildly grown, linearly expanding ones can be proven in numerous city ground plans. This may be seen as a kind of basic principle of urban growth. This principle can be observed not only in the inside of existing cities, but also in greater spatial contexts in the city development process of agglomerates.

1. The linear development structure along the Upper Rhine between Basel and Mulhouse.

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In the vicinity of larger agglomerates, single settlement points grow into clusters which, touching one another, finally condense into larger expanses. This clustering runs along the linear settlement stretches and also along the connecting cross streets. In this way, a ladder-form settlement pattern slowly starts to reveal itself in the upper Rhine valley between Basel and Frankfurt. One example is the city of Karlsruhe which forms the center of an H-shaped agglomerate. The example of Karlsruhe proves yet another unique aspect of the urban development in the upper Rhine valley. The cross connection between the two existing traditional linear settlement ribbons was created only by the city founded in the 18th century. A consciously planned urban operation was necessary to fill the vacuum between the two settlement strips traditionally following the natural spatial attributes. The newly founded city put itself into the center. It connected and integrated the old structures with its own strictly geometrical settlement form. Comparable to an organ of a body, it connected to the existing circulatory system and was nurtured by it. The newly founded city, a symbol of the political power of the sovereign, existed only because of the connection to the linear settlement structure that was already there. However, at the same time the city impressed upon the settlement structure an unmistakably new influence and orientation.

1. The linear development structure along the Upper Rhine condenses into ladder-form cities between Basel and Frankfurt.

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A comparable cross-connecting urban spatial effect can be seen today in the numerous foundation cities, bastions and fortified bridge heads, once erected by older cities along the Rhine on the opposite side of the river. One example of such an opposition is Neuf-Brisach and Breisach, which together form the core of a cross-connecting agglomerate between Colmar and Freiburg/i.Br. In the vicinity of Basel there are the two Rheinfelden, Laufenburg, Kleinbasel and Großbasel or Huningue. Huningue was once a strongly fortified 18th century French bastion located opposite the former fishing village of Kleinhüningen outside the gates of the also fortified city of Basel. The even pentagon with its beautiful center can still be recognized in the ground plan of Huningue. However, today’s opposing site is no longer Kleinhüningen but rather Weil-Friedlingen. For years, a bridge across the Rhine – destroyed during WW I – connected the French and the German part of town. If one looks out from both of the two corresponding river banks, i.e. from Huningue to Weil-Friedlingen as well as from Weil-Friedlingen to Huningue, the lack of a bridge connection is as obvious as a missing piece in a puzzle. These are places which were originally created as a connection; a conscious apposition; places which weren’t supposed to grow without any plan, but should have constantly kept in mind this connecting moment that took place during their development. The growth-evoking forces for Huningue can be found in the neighboring St. Louis, and for Friedlingen in Weil. Indeed, the city of St. Louis increasingly develops a cross-shaped city form, whose longitudinal main arm reaches into Großbasel. Its main cross arm reaches over to Huningue and to the west it stretches out to Hegenheim and Hésingue. This rather strict geometric city shape on the French side is apposed by the heterogeneous city structure in Weil formed by the districts of Friedlingen and the village of Alt-Weil, as well as the interstitial “strip” of Weil-Leopoldshöhe. We can therefore see an accumulation – a developing city so to speak – which forms itself obliquely to the Rhine plain. The growth centers of this accumulation are St. Louis and Weil. The emerging city picture would thus be a wide crosswise settlement band be- tween the valley restrictions (low terraces of the Rhine, Sundgau hill) to its west, and to its east, the valley restrictions at the foot of Tüllinger Hügel close to Weil.

1, 2. The Spalenring as an example for an urban boulevard, which came into being through the transformation of a section of the railroad tracks. 3. The main road of Weil-Friedlingen, one of the future boulevards of the cross-connection between Weil and St. Louis, leads axially towards the church of Huningue and, together with a new bridge across the Rhine, connects both towns. 4. Example for a possible condensation of the existing orthogonal city structure in St. Louis.

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What is the relationship between this developing cross strip, this line-up of future city quarters, and the already existing quarters of the agglomerate? How is the shape of today’s city changed by the integration of this crosswise band? Here as well, we are dealing with a linear settlement structure which in the past has developed in a kind of wild growth, without any urban consciousness. In connection with other existing and future quarters, it can be brought into a complete circular city form which then really represents the southern limits of the aforementioned ladder-like city structure of the upper Rhine valley between Basel and Frankfurt. The suggested tangential circular shape can thus be seen as the urban expression of a connection between the old linear settlement structures on both sides of the Rhine. Here, they are transformed and joined together. Conscious urban decisions have to be made at the decisive interfaces of this developing city circle; the topographic and political key points. These urban decisions are of vital importance with respect to the emerging communicative and circular city picture. They must take into account the precedence of linear development and individual community planning.

The public city space

We have perceived the public spaces of the ring-shaped city, the city along the Rhine River, the city along the railroad tracks and the city in the side valleys of the Rhine, as public spaces put into question. This future public space of the city conglomerate consists of an entity interconnected like a web with streets, squares and parks, redrawing the natural spatial conditions of the narrowing upper Rhine plain and the side rivers discharging into the Rhine. The development lines of the city conglomerate as described in the preceding chapters, find their urban expression in accumulations of building masses and at the same time in a stronger presence of public spaces. We have seen that the existing fabric, the existing architectural structures, thus can not define the space of the streets and parks, the squares and rivers. Therefore, this space has not yet evolved into an independent location. The public space of today is only a space in between, dedicated for the most part to a single activity, a single urban function, e. g., the street to the cars and the inner city to the pedestrians. The future public space of the city will be more dense, i. e., it will no longer be unbound because specific concepts adapted to the existing spatial conditions will allow a simultaneous use of the street space for all urban functions: for the pedestrians as well as the joggers, for bicycles as well as for cars and public transportation. The future public space will also have a much more multi-faceted design because new means of design will be added, capable of being tuned to the specific local conditions and needs of a quarter. They will not make you forget the curb, the border and the trees along an avenue. However, these traditional means of designing public space will be supplemented by further decisive measures.

1. The goal of the study was the design of a public city space. The plan shows future and existing streets and parks which take into consideration future quarters along the railroad tracks and along the Rhine River, and also for the creation of a circular city shape.

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The city in the side valleys of the Rhine

The urban development took a similar course in the side valleys of the Rhine: the valleys of the Birsig, Wiese, Birs and Ergolz. During the past forty years, these relatively narrow valleys were quickly filled up. With the exception of Lörrach, a city with various quarter structures and an older history and development, the existing historic community structures in these side valleys were exclusively influenced by agriculture. The original patterns of the village centers, valid for centuries, are still recognizable in the plan, e.g., the main street of a linear village or the star shaped branches. They point to the original topography and the once valid connecting pathways. But today these village centers have become, as a living space, of no use. They are architecturally dead because most farms have been torn down or replaced by intruding copies of a lost local tradition. They have become useless economically, politically and culturally because they are no longer centers of a rural population who self-consciously express the rural culture through agriculture. These areas are useless because they have become quarters for an urban population, and thus, cities with- in the city, without ever having found an urban consciousness and quality. Let us observe the most important settlement elements in the four side valleys: the linear main streets, the community structures (the quarters) and their architectural relationship with the corresponding river.

The main streets. What kind of streets are they? Do these arteries of the new cities and boroughs in the side valleys of the Rhine have a character or an identity? They are still the same old country roads but, like the old village structures, they have been deprived of their rural charm of yore when one would pass wheat fields and lawns with cherry trees. Up to this day they have not received a new, unique and varying, efficient expression. These streets are merely connecting lines with two or three lanes – not fast auto routes – with perhaps one lane for bicycles or a tram running in its own green grass lane for several kilometers. Most of the times there is a walkway for pedestrians who perhaps have got themselves lost. Where, however, are the public spaces? Where is the attraction for the drivers who like to travel on a wide lane. Where is the attraction for the bikers and pedestrians, who would go into the shadows of alleys and wide, park-like zones; from block to block and quarter to quarter; moving within a city where the edge of the street is a part of the city and where there are restaurants or shops; where there could be buildings on the streets that have a special relationship with this now urban boulevard and which weren’t placed there by unfortunate coincidence? A radical and consistent redesign of today’s one-dimensional connecting streets in the side valleys with regard to the development of public spaces is a precondition for the transformation of the adjacent settlement structures into real quarters quarters with their own urban diversity and culture. It would be nonsense to demand better architecture for a place which, after all, doesn’t really exist, or to place this architecture at a street which has no identity or a river which can no longer be perceived as such. Architecture can develop only in relation to the place where it is built and, conversely, the place comes into being only through its architectural and urban influence. But where a place can not be defined in urban terms, architecture can not be! Expressed in a different way: along these main streets, architecture can’t be found because there is no place, no public space for it. Again, this shows the close relationship between the urban idea of an entire quarter and the urban idea at the edge of the quarter; the interface to the adjacent one. This interface is, after all, a public space – a street, a square, a park. A glance at the city map also reveals that quarters with a well-developed architectural and urban expression inside their structure express these specific characteristics at the interfaces to the adjacent quarters as well, by a corresponding urban sculpting of the bordering street space.

Most buildings bordering this street space are architecturally correctly placed, i.e., they are not asked to have an especially original individual shape and therefore, are not overcharged because the facades need not be relevant in an urban sense. That task belongs to the street as a whole, expressing the street’s domain as a diverse public living space.

Just like the relationships between the quarters and the main streets in the side valleys of the Rhine aren’t developed according to a constructive concept for the public space and for the life in it, there also is no clear and constant urban idea for the relationship of the quarters, buildings, and streets to the corresponding river.

1. Aerial view of the Birsig valley

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The medieval city of Basel developed along the Birsig and not at the Rhine, which at that time was to rapid to be crossed. The entire layout of the valley city’s center between Münsterhügel and Heuberg/Nadelberg is oriented to- wards the Birsig which, once used as a sewer, finally was so infested that it had to be drained and thus, was made to disappear. However, the river remains visible as the initiating, designing element in the city picture and leaves behind a clear, unmistakable quarter structure: the so-called inner city of Basel.

For similar functional reasons – as in this medieval center – various industries in later centuries settled along the Birsig, the Wiese and the Birs as well as the Rhine. Here also, a glance at the city map clearly reveals this relationship between the river and the factories. The large black demarcations of the factory buildings are sitting close to the rivers, as though attracted by a magnet. This relationship between river and buildings, i.e., water and industry, is no longer a guiding force. The sewage is detoured by shafts and cleaning systems and the energy needs are no longer provided by the hydro- power at the place of production. But quarters with their own urban diversity and culture. It would be nonsense to demand better architecture for a place which, after all, doesn’t really exist, or to place this architecture at a street which has no identity or a river which can no longer be perceived as such. Architecture can develop only in relation to the place where it is built and, conversely, the place comes into being only through its architectural and urban influence. But where a place can not be defined in urban terms, architecture can not be! Expressed in a different way: along these main streets, architecture can’t be found because there is no place, no public space for it. Again, this shows the close relationship between the urban idea of an entire quarter and the urban idea at the edge of the quarter; the interface to the adjacent one. This interface is, after all, a public space – a street, a square, a park. A glance at the city map also reveals that quarters with a well-developed architectural and urban expression inside their structure express these specific characteristics at the interfaces to the adjacent quarters as well, by a corresponding urban sculpting of the bordering street space.

Most buildings bordering this street space are architecturally correctly placed, i.e., they are not asked to have an especially original individual shape and therefore, are not overcharged because the facades need not be relevant in an urban sense. That task belongs to the street as a whole, expressing the street’s domain as a diverse public living space.

Just like the relationships between the quarters and the main streets in the side valleys of the Rhine aren’t developed according to a constructive concept for the public space and for the life in it, there also is no clear and constant urban idea for the relationship of the quarters, buildings, and streets to the corresponding river.

The medieval city of Basel developed along the Birsig and not at the Rhine, which at that time was to rapid to be crossed. The entire layout of the valley city’s center between Münsterhügel and Heuberg/Nadelberg is oriented towards the Birsig which, once used as a sewer, finally was so infested that it had to be drained and thus, was made to disappear. However, the river remains visible as the initiating, designing element in the city picture and leaves behind a clear, unmistakable quarter structure: the so-called inner city of Basel.

For similar functional reasons – as in this medieval center – various industries in later centuries settled along the Birsig, the Wiese and the Birs as well as the Rhine. Here also, a glance at the city map clearly reveals this relationship between the river and the factories. The large black demarcations of the factory buildings are sitting close to the rivers, as though attracted by a magnet. This relationship between river and buildings, i.e., water and industry, is no longer a guiding force. The sewage is detoured by shafts and cleaning systems and the energy needs are no longer provided by the hydropower at the place of production. But there is at least a clearly recognizable urban relationship here. And indeed, within these industrial zones, places developed which, due to their immanent architectural and urban quality, will find their validity in a later reassigned use in a transformed city. Except for these two previously mentioned examples, the factory buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries and the medieval valley city’s center on the Birsig, no further specific relation- ships based on an urban intention can be found between city quarter and river.

1. The city in the Birsig valley. 2. The city in the Birs valley.

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Except for the mouth of the Birsig (medieval city center), the Birs and the Wiese, where a promenade design with trees and an urban edge building was started, further back in the valleys along the main streets, the subdivisions of single family homes, open communities and housing tracts with an artificial or a natural treatment of the river embankments, all interact in a coincidental sequence. Is the river a part of the public space, is it a sewer, is it part of a naturally designed river bank biosphere? Is it an accompanying path of a valley street, or is it perhaps all of the above? Indeed, it seems that it would have to be all in one because each quarter, i.e., each community, is posing the same demands on the river. But, in fact, it is neither a public space close to nature, nor an intensely used urban living space, nor an industrially used sewer, because these demands are neither coordinated nor formulated in any urban way so that no specific reality can come into being. The buildings and the streets could be anywhere – even where there is no river. The river itself is no longer perceivable as a naturally given location since it has not been transformed to an urban site; a place in the city. The urban intention, to work out the natural space in the real, constructed city boroughs, can only be realized again with very different and singular operations in these quickly grown, particle-like, heterogeneous urban structures of the side valleys. It can also never attain the completeness and homogeneity of the curved urban space in the city center along the Rhine. Here, the various suggestions must be understood as an urban tendency towards a redistribution of weight. Accumulations, additions and height increases, and also, in this context, expansion and redesign of the public street space must be preferred to new structures and a further spatial expansion in the landscape. In this way, a predominate settlement picture will develop, taking on its own specific, symbolic character in each side valley. The newly developing settlement picture will not take on a freely invented form but will develop out of today’s existing settlement structure and will be perceivable as an artificially created entity, as an artifact. At the same time, the future community picture of the city, in the valleys of the Birsig, Wiese, Birs and Ergolz rivers, is an architectural expression of the existing landscape. The new picture will not be opposed to the landscape and won’t confront it, but will melt into it. Natural space and city space will have become interdependent and interwoven parts of a common substance – the city.

1, 2. Suggestion for a condensation of the main street in Binningen and Bottmingen. 3. Old country road. 4. Historic linear village.
5, 6. Today’s village centers which have become useless economically, politically, and culturally. 7, 8. The streets are merely connection routes. 9, 10. The quarters’ relationship to the river is nowadays unclear.

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Team

Facts

In Collaboration With
Rémy Zaugg, Basel, Switzerland
Client
Gewerbeverband Basel-Stadt, Basel, Switzerland

Bibliography

Gerhard Mack, Herzog & de Meuron: “Herzog & de Meuron 1989-1991. The Complete Works. Volume 2.” Edited by: Gerhard Mack. Chinese ed. Beijing, China Architecture & Building Press, 2010. Vol. No. 2.

Gerhard Mack: “Rémy Zaugg, a Monograph.” Edited by: Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean Luxembourg. Luxembourg, Fondation Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean Luxembourg, 2006.

Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Rémy Zaugg: “Eine Stadt im Werden? A Nascent City?.”
In: Gerhard Mack (Ed.). “Herzog & de Meuron 1989-1991. The Complete Works. Volume 2.” 2nd adv. and rev. ed. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 2005. Vol. No. 2. pp. 154-171.
First published in: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Rémy Zaugg: “Basel, eine Stadt im Werden?.”
In: Verband freierwerbender Schweizer Architekten. Fédération Suisse des Architectes Indépendants FSAI (Ed.). “Archithese. Zeitschrift und Schriftenreihe für Architektur und Kunst. Revue thématique d’Architecture et d’Art. Architektur und Film.” Vol. No. 6, Sulgen, Niggli AG, 1992. pp. 28-43.

Herzog & de Meuron. Natural History.” Edited by: Philip Ursprung. Exh. Cat. “Herzog & de Meuron. Archaeology of the Mind.” Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. 23 October 2002 – 6 April 2003. 2nd ed. Baden, Lars Müller, 2005.

Armelle Lavalou, Jean-Paul Robert, Rémy Zaugg: “Rémy Zaugg. L’Atelier.” In: Jean-Paul Robert (Ed.). “L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.” Vol. No. 315, Paris, Groupe Expansion, 02.1998. pp. 39-59.

Wilfried Wang: “Herzog & de Meuron.” 3rd adv. and rev. ed. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 1998. (= Studiopaperback).

Herzog & de Meuron, Rémy Zaugg: “Bâle, une Ville en Devenir.” In: Jean-Paul Robert (Ed.). “L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.” Vol. No. 300, Paris, Groupe Expansion, 09.1995. pp. 62-75.

Rémy Zaugg: “Der Staat Basel-Stadt oder Absperrung als städtebauliches Prinzip.” In: Eva Schmidt (Ed.). “Rémy Zaugg. Vom Bild zur Welt.” Exh. Cat. “Jemand. Draussen.” Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster. 29 January – 14 March 1993. Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst e.V., Bremen. 26 March – 9 May 1993. Cologne, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 1993. pp. 242-272.