Issue 134 IX-X 2010
Lab Basel. Capital
of the ‘three frontier region’ – between Switzerland, France and
Germany –, Basel is famous for its chemical and pharmaceutical industry, its
art fair and its carnival, aside from having lent its name to the main international
accords for banking supervision. While in Europe the secondary sector decreases
because of the outsourcing of production to areas with fewer costs, the Swiss pharmaceutical
industry, like the watchmaking one, stays in the lead and attracts the best specialists
thanks to its investment in research, development and innovation. Included here
are four initiatives of companies based in the area: three campuses devoted
to biotechnology – Roche, Novartis and Actelion – and one to furniture
design and manufacturing, Vitra.
Innovation at the Frontier
Views and Reviews
Cultural Conversations. A dialog in the recently inaugurated City of Culture of Galicia pairs up with an interview with the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, who has just published a book about curatorship.
Art / Culture
Modernity and Tradition. An exhibition at Rome’s MAXXI devoted to the Italian engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi coincides with another one at Frankfurt’s DAM on the polemic oeuvre of the German architect Paul Bonatz.
Nervi, Heroic Structures
Joaquín Medina Warmburg
Bonatz, Monumental Nature
Printed Media. Francesco Dal Co reviews Humaredas, by Juan José Lahuerta; José Miguel Iribas, the reedition of El estilo del relax, by Juan Antonio Ramírez; moreover, graphic design, architecture magazines, and books received.
Hotels with Memory. Three accommodations in touch with their past: a hotel in Córdoba on the site of another one which used to be a city landmark; a residence for executives that extends and refurbishes an old school in Roca del Vallès; and the first Spanish branch of the Asian hotel group Mandarin Oriental, which refurbishes in Barcelona what used to be a bank headquarters.
Technique / Style
To close, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek asserts the critical potential of the space of waste, that traditionally neglected place that is located between the interior and the exterior of buildings, and the unique value of which resides in its capacity to reveal the inability of contemporary architecture to overcome its own contradictions.
The Third Space
At the crossroads of three countries, Basel promotes itself under the motto ‘Culture
Unlimited’. This mixed label, which joins a mention to its intellectual
legacy and artistic leadership with a suggested reference to its entrepreneurial
dynamism, describes well its polyhedric nature, striding the frontiers of culture
and business. Base of the planet’s largest art fair, and of centers like its
Kunsthalle, the Fondation Beyeler (Renzo Piano), the Museum Tinguely (Mario
Botta), the Schaulager (Herzog & de Meuron) or the Vitra Design Museum
(Frank Gehry), the city that witnessed the lectures of Nietzsche, Burckhardt and
Wölfflin is also home of the BIS (Bank of International Settlements),
the institution that establishes the financial rules in the whole world, and of
two leading pharmaceutical companies, the first and third of the globe – both
larger than any Spanish company. Laboratory of art and culture, and also of economy
and finance, Basel has known how to use architecture as a tool to blend its
two identities, with a series of business campuses that are also grounds of excellence
in the field of design.
The two large pharmaceutical companies pursue the quality of their headquarters
with opposite strategies: while Roche sticks to its tradition of trusting a single
architect (in the 1930s it was Otto Salvisberg, and today it is Herzog & de
Meuron, who after completing several buildings have now designed an unexpected skyscraper),
Novartis, under the leadership of Daniel Vassella and with the urban plan
of Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, has created a fragment of ideal city where each
piece has been assigned to a member of the architectural star system, from SANAA,
Gehry, Moneo or Chipperfield to Siza, Piano, Nouvel or the same H&deM,
who establish a quiet dialog within a precinct of extremely restricted access, perhaps
out of fear of the activism of animal rights defenders, who oppose testing in laboratories.
The small complex of the also pharmaceutical company Actelion, for its part,
has been entirely commissioned to H&deM, who have brought to it variety with
works of very different formal purpose, probably because the tour de force of acrobatic
stacking of the first building is hard to exceed or to duplicate.
Finally, the model campus of the furniture design firm Vitra – already in Germany, though in the outskirts of the Swiss city, and run with cautious and visionary intelligence by Rolf?Fehlbaum – has acquired new works, and very significantly the VitraHaus by H&deM, a showroom whose masterly conception and execution places it amongst the best projects of the Rheinschanze studio, whose international profile has not prevented them from becoming prophets in?Basel, where they have carried out over a hundred projects, from the interior design of the BIS?to the remodeling of the FC?Basel, the football club they support. There are many who know that the Barça was founded by the captain of the Basel Joan Gamper, and that is why both clubs share badge and colors; but few recall that the first Bible in Spanish – translated by followers of Erasmus, who spent his last years in Basel – was printed in this city, where the advances in paper production and its frontier location would promote book editing as with time the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, all of them in the end laboratories of intellectual and material innovation.