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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.

http://www.mitte.ch/ (German)
http://www.basel.ch/en/kultur/veranstalter-1/innenraeume/unternehmenmitte.htm (English)