Archive for the ‘Architectural Design’ Category

Basel: City on the Rhine

Münster and Terraces overlooking the Rhine, Basel

Basel has a strong relationship with the Rhine. The city is uniquely located, at a point between the tight, fast-flowing upper courses in Switzerland, and the broad meanders known to Northern Europe.

From its source in the canton of Graubünden, the Rhine passes through six countries and covers a distance of 1320 kilometres. On the edge of France, Germany and Switzerland, the river changes direction, turning from west to north, and forming the ‘Rhine Knee’. North of Basel, the river is a natural border between France and Germany. In the docklands at Kleinhüningen, the three countries formally meet. This so-called Dreiländereck is marked by a sculpture from Wilhem Münger.

Basel is Switzerland’s third largest city, with a population of 190000 inhabitants. The area was originally settled by the Romans and the Celts, who found defensive topography and trading opportunities where smaller tributaries flow into the Rhine. The old centre is characterised by ridged roofs, with many gables, balconies and overhanging eaves. Medieval buildings grew up around the Gothic Münster (1013-1500s), which is constructed on a small plateau.

Today, the city is known for being a centre of pharmaceuticals, banking, and publishing. The river is still important for trade, allowing container barges and tankers from Rotterdam access to Switzerland. Passenger craft also make the journey up-river. Against the current, this can take over five days. Near to the Jura Mountains, Bernese Oberland and Black Forest, Basel is an attractive place to work and study. Famous locals have included Erasmus, Nitezsche and Bernoulli, as well as architects Herzog and de Meuron, who set-up their main practice here. The city was also home to Switzerland’s first university, and now has a large teaching hospital. Grossbasel, on the Rhine’s south bank, is where most of the tourist sights are located. The Rathaus (townhall), has a colourful painted facade, with frescoes in the courtyard. Other attractions include a fountain with moving sculptures by Jean Tinguely, a work by Richard Serra, and a world-class arts museum. Across the river in Kleinbasel, the Messe exhibition centre includes a 31-storey glass skyscraper, which was once the tallest building in the country.

Kleinbasel,with Münster-Fähre ‘Leu’ in the foreground

Crossing from Grossbasel to Kleinbasel, has proved an issue of historical interest. Until the mid 19th Century, Mittlere Brücke (1225) was the single crossing point to the north-east. To provide more crossing places, reaction ferries were established. Serving as flying bridges, these boats used the Rhine current as their sole driving force.

Currently, there are four ferries in operation: Wild Maa, at St Alban; Leu, at the Münster; Vogel Gryff, the Klingental- Fähre, and Ueli, the St. Johann-Fähre. At each crossing point, steel cables are tensioned across the river. A tether line from each ferry is connected to a collar that can move freely along the cable. Positioning the boat at 45 degrees to the Rhine current forces water to strike one side of the craft. A reaction force then propels the boat in the opposite direction. The Basel Fähre is a flat-bottomed, wooden craft, with curved bows and long benches on either side. At the front, a large platform allows passengers to embark and disembark. The rear third is covered by a small hut, from where the Fäärimaa (ferryman) operates the ferry, and passengers can shelter in bad weather. To control the speed, the boat can be positioned at a range of angles, by using rudders. This means that it is possible to slow down when reaching the other bank. To change direction, the Fäärimaa (ferryman) passes a level from one side of the boat to the other, reversing the side of the craft the tether is connected to. Ingeniously, the boat only needs man-power to push off and come into land. After that, the speed is largely dependent on the flow of the Rhine. When the water is high, it is sometimes too dangerous to sail. If the water is low, speed can be increased by attaching different side boards or rowing. The journey on Ueli, the lowest craft on the river, takes the longest, since here the Rhine is wider. Karl Städeli has been a Fäärimaa for nearly 40 years. His fähre, Leu, has a crossing of 185m, connecting the Münster with Kleinbasel. In a full day, his boat travels 9.25 km back and forth across the river.

Münster-Fähre, showing tether cable and lever mechanism

Gradually, as the Wettsteinbrücke (1879), Johanniter- (1882) and the Dreirosenbrücke (1934) were built, the ferries became less profitable. A foundation, the Stiftung Basler Fähren, was created to maintain the boats, promote tourist use, and ensure they remain part of Basel’s urban character. Baslers are encouraged to become friends of the ferry, by joining the Fähre-Verein. Their members are 4000 strong, giving assistance through donations, fundraising and forming a social network.

Klingental-Fähre ‘Vogel Gryff’ at 45 degrees to the Rhine current

Today, the ferries are leased to private owners, and run without state donation. A crossing costs 1.60 Swiss Francs for adults. Each boat can carry a maximum of 34 people, and will usually operate from 9am – 8pm. During the annual Fasnacht festival, the ferries run longer services into the night. There is also the opportunity to try-out ferry sailing, or they can be hired for special events, with aperitifs or fondue as extras. Over the Summer, there will be a special nautical-themed charity concert to raise money for a new craft. This is expected to cost around 400000 Francs. When well-built, the boat can last 30 years in rain, wind and bad weather.

Basel’s Fähre are a small example of the life the city harnesses from the Rhine. Along the river, terraced banks provide a place for people to relax, view the Basel skyline, and watch the ferries crossing back and forth. Basel just wouldn’t be the same without the Rhine: it’s the driving force that keeps this dynamic city moving.

Basel: On The Rhine, City Plan

Wallpaper City Guide (2012) Basel, Phaidon.
Basel Tourism
Basel Fähre-Verein


Unternehmen Mitte, Basel’s Living Room

Unternehmen Mitte, Basel

Located between Marktplatz and Barfüsserplatz, Unternehmen Mitte is a stylish coffee-house and gathering place. In 1998-99, the former Schweizeriche Volksbank (Swiss Co-operative Bank) headquarters were renovated, creating ‘a living room in an urban space’.

Cafes, restaurants, performing venues and offices are all combined in the one refurbishment, aiming to secure long-term future use. The present owners are strongly committed to generating a sense of place, reflected by chosing the name, Mitte (‘house at the centre’). At the entrance, the Italianità cafe is split into Fumare and Non Fumare sections, elegantly solving the problem of smoking in public. Sliding doors and an enlarged pavement allow patrons to engage with the street. A spacious coffee-house occupies the former banking hall in the building’s centre. Furniture from the Vitra design company, comfy sofas and mood lighting make for an attractive meeting place. In Situ, the project architects, stripped away later additions, taking the building back to its basic structure. In the process, this revealed gems like the original flooring. At night, the hall transforms into a bar and can be used for live music, drama or dance. A long black bookcase carrying works by Rudolf Steiner, an architect and social reformist, crosses the hall and is hung on steel chains. Light is reflected from the glazed ceiling above, giving the impression of a much larger space.

Coffee House in Former Banking Hall, Unternehmen Mitte

Mitte’s mission statement aims to focus on what is really useful or important in life. In the upper stories, there is room for dance, yoga, and personal ateliers. In this way, architects, journalists and media professions get to rub shoulders with the visiting public. A community bank, committed to ethical and ecological trading principles, provides capital for social, cultural and environmentally sound investments. Tageswoche, a local newspaper have also decided to locate their offices at Mitte. Below street level, the original bank safe is intact, and forms a unique venue for small theatre performances.

Occupied day and night by Baselers, Unternehmen Mitte is truly a living room for Basel. The project shows how mixed-use conversion can offer a gathering place of real importance for the local community. (German) (English)

Architecture Is… Magazine

Students at the University of Edinburgh have started producing a magazine, Architecture Is. Aiming to ‘bring a bright and diverse view of Architecture and related arts’, the first blog posts cover the High Line, Invisible Cities, Kirkaldy Maggie Centre and employment at Dezeen.

Blinde Kuh, Basel

In her second post, placement reporter Zena Moore features my experience at Baubüro In Situ. She describes Blinde Kuh, a restaurant where you eat in total darkness. Blinde Kuh is a large employer for blind and partially sighted individuals. ‘The architectural idea cleverly turns disability on its head, so that it is you who requires the assistance whilst inside the restaurant’.

Sicht-Bar, Blinde Kuh

Museum of Liverpool

Museum of Liverpool

Museum of Liverpool

Opened in 2011, the Museum of Liverpool occupies a prominent position at Pier Head, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The waterfront development represents continued regeneration work since the European Capital of Culture celebrations were held in 2008.

Danish 3XN Architects conceived the design from circulation routes across the docks, which then became sculpted platforms and  cantilevers. The site is adjacent to Liverpool’s Three Graces, Edwardian commercial buildings linked to the city’s maritime heyday, and is bordered by a connection to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Two large picture windows (28 x 8m) allow views in opposing directions; towards the Three Graces in the North, and Albert Dock to the South. At night, they appear as beacons, gazing out over Merseyside. Jura Stone is employed to clad the 2100 tonne steel skeleton. Landscaping attempts to create public spaces around the building periphery. Construction was directed by AEW Architects, Manchester. When the development opened, it was the newest purpose-built museum in the UK for over 100 years. The building provides a larger visitor capacity than the Museum of Liverpool Life, closed in 2006, and aims to attract 750000 visitors per annum.

Pier Head Regeneration

Pier Head Regeneration

Internally, exhibitions chart Liverpuddlian culture, sporting achievements and industrial heritage. Famous writers, performers, musicians, and artists feature in ‘Wonderous Place’, along with the development of Liverpool FC and Everton FC. Recognising Liverpool’s history as a port, a gallery covers trade, imports & exports and the Liverpool to Manchester railway. As an architecture student, it was also interesting to see a 1:48 scale model of Lutyen’s plans for Liverpool Cathedral. Completed in 1932, it took 12 craftsmen one year to complete just the exterior. The exhibitions have been criticised by some for providing a popularised narrative, offering few challenging topics. However, I would argue that the museum successfully uses modern technology to engage visitors, and the large interconnected gallery spaces allow a non-linear investigation of collections. Surprisingly though, a large proportion of the building footprint is taken up by circulation. A spiral ramp connects all floors. A spiral is also printed on the foyer floor, which is allegedly a reference to local prehistoric carvings.

The Museum of Liverpool is an iconic new addition to the city skyline, contributing to the eventual regeneration of Pier Head.


Superlambanana, sculptures created by artist Taro Chiezo to mark the Capital of Culture celebrations

Photographs taken 2011.

Salford Quays

Imperial War Museum North

Imperial War Museum North, Daniel Libeskind

Salford Quays forms one of the largest urban renewal projects in the Britain. The site is home to Imperial War Museum North, the Lowry Centre, and MediaCity.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, covering 35.5 miles and allowing vessels to reach the city outskirts. The canal was a terrific engineering achievement, enabling 12500 tonne vessels  miles passage from  the Mersey Estuary. At the advent of containerisation, industrial activity declined steeply, with the docks closing in 1982. Unlike Liverpool, the Manchester Docks lacked buildings of architectural merit or potential for conversion. Salford Council purchased 90 Hectares of dockyard, with a development plan for the area released in 1985.

Salford Quays

The Lowry Centre, Salford Quays

The Lowry Centre, a landmark arts and theatre venue, opened in 2000. Designed by James Stirling and Michael Wilford, the complex has over-tones of a liner, reflects the surrounding landscape and waterways. The building occupies the area of five football pitches, has several auditoriums and a gallery promoting the artist LS Lowry. Imperial War Museum North (Daniel Libeskind, 2002) represents a world shattered by war. The resulting shards, earth, air and water, house a large open exhibition space, cafe and 29 m high viewing platform. Collections chart military history from the First World War to the present day, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The Big Picture Show is a film projected throughout the gallery at regular intervals, providing a different perspective on the personal impact of war.


MediaCity, Salford Quays

MediaCity UK is the result of an ambition to make Salford a centre of excellence for the creative industries and digital media. The principle occupant is BBC North, which attempts to readdress the southern bias of program production. The new centre opened in 2011 and will create 2300 jobs. BBC Sport, BBC Breakfast, Children’s content, Radio 5 Live, BBC Learning and Future media are all departments that have moved to the three buildings leased by Peel Media. Programmes such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter and Dragon’s den are now made at BBC North. The project cost under £200 million, and includes outdoor event’s space for 5000 people.

Mark Radcliffe and Stewart Maconie are two of the new tenants at MediaCity. The much-loved broadcasting duo moved to digital radio station 6Music in 2011, and began presenting the afternoon show. We are regular listeners in the University of Edinburgh architecture workshop!


Robert at MediaCity UK

Arnside Viaduct and Seafood Kitchen

Arnside Viaduct, 1856 (restored 2011)

Happy New Year; all the best for 2012. It seems like quite a while since I’ve written anything online. Hopefully the New Year will provide more time for me to write architectural insights.

My course in MA (Hons) Architectural Design includes the opportunity for a placement period. As such, I am currently looking for work experience at an architecture firm or similar in a period from January-December 2012. Anyone interested can read my CV and view portfolio material at Stay posted for a new website, on its way very shortly.

Arnside Viaduct, built in 1856, has recently undergone a £11.1 million deck refurbishment. The crossing is part of the Cumbria West Coast Line, linking Carnforth, Barrow and Carlisle. Over time, the structure had become so weak that trains were limited to 30 mph when crossing. In the final four months, this was reduced to 20 mph. In addition, the structure had become too weak to accommodate the lifting cranes required for dismantling. May Gurney, building contractors, were required to replace 102 deck units (two for each of the 51 spans) in a 16 week time period. By installing two new maintenance walkways, independent from the existing bridge deck, they could use a gantry frame to replace the panels. This technique, first trialled at the nearby Leven Viaduct in 2006, purportedly cut construction time by a half. Hopefully, Network Rail will now increase the viaduct speed limit to 60 mph. Certainly, the renewal works have ensured the future of this 150 year old structure.

Over the Christmas break, I compiled a portfolio of third year work. The ‘Explorations’ project seeked to design a sustainable prawn fishing community on the island of Kerrera, Scotland. Analysing the creel fishing process and undertaking a site visit established themes of wave turbulence, micro-climate and weather. The Seafood Kitchen provides fine dining, culinary education and guest accommodation to gastro-tourists wanting to learn more about the prawn fishing industry. My final design is a restaurant that incorporates thermal strategies based on the heat processes involved in seafood preparation.

A Place of My Own

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

‘A Place of My Own’ is the result of two years’ academic study at the University of Edinburgh. The short book displays work produced in architectural design, technology and history, with examples of projects and concise essays. I found it rewarding to review work from the start of my course and notice the improvement in standard.

My design projects include a renga platform, artisan dwelling, museum of product design, and a dance centre. Essays cover fascist architecture, the Ancien Regime and the Papacy. Finally, technology examines sustainability and building tectonics, with case studies on Waterloo International Terminal and 14a Garway Road, Bayswater.