How do you make something special out of a new exhibition hall (basically an empty windowless box), especially when its site is so woven into the existing urban fabric? For the Basel Messe New Hall, Herzog and de Meuron have employed two strategies to resolve the issues of the potential ‘dumb box’. First, they have expressed the building as 3 volumes stacked on top of each other at slightly different angles, allowing the shifts in composition to create different readings of the building from everywhere around the site. The total height of these volumes matches the height of surrounding buildings, maintaining the historic urban pattern with a contemporary insertion. Then they have sheathed the facades in a woven expanded aluminium mesh screen that catches the light in different ways due to a variety of different weaves across the facades. Even on the dull, rainy day when I visited, this variation is apparent, still giving the building a varied yet unified identity all around the site.
The new building straddles a public square with an oculus cutting through the volume. This design strategy creates a covered public space, the ‘City Lounge’, for movement between the two exhibition halls, while also allowing pedestrians, cyclists and trams to weave their way through the site at all times of the day. The way the expanded aluminium mesh is composed within the oculus creates a significant feature, lifting what may have been a very ordinary space to something far more artistic, unusual and uplifting.
Located beyond the City Lounge is the Messeplatz, used for outdoor exhibitions, and the Messe Tower beyond (apparently also by Herzog and de Meuron). If you go to the top of the tower to Bar Rouge you will find a rather odd bar from which you can look down on this part of Basel, and upon the solar panels on the green roof of the Messe Basel, from the unusual vantage point within the glass fronted toilets.
Place: Messe Basel
Architect: Herzog and de Meuron
Photographer: Stephen Varady
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