08 Sep 2020 • Institutions
Herzog & de Meuron’s expansion of Basel’s Stadtcasino is a masterclass in respectfully modernizing heritage buildings
The firm’s historically attune expansion of the music venue in Basel reignites the former glory of the Swiss city’s 'Cultural Mile'.
In the 19th century, a group of seven buildings emerged on the southern perimeter of Basel’s Old Town, comprising a cultural destination for those versed in the arts. Erected on the former site of a medieval monastery and convents, these hubs – for art, music, sculpture, theatre and more – still stand today, albeit only three in their original form after years of urban expansion. Herzog & de Meuron have completed a four-year-long extension of the Stadtcasino Basel, augmenting the facilities of the attached Musiksaal concert hall.
Stadtcasino Basel’s original 1831 structure was demolished to make way for a new one in 1939 and, in 2007, was the subject of an architectural competition that would have seen the replacement of the 20th-century building. Completed by Zaha Hadid, the winning competition project was ultimately rejected by the people due to its heavy massing. Later, in 2012, Herzog & de Meuron was commissioned to conduct an urban study to decide how best to construct ancillary facilities for the adjacent Musiksaal, and the firm found that the best solution would be to uncouple the connected operations of it and Stadtcasino Basel.
In doing this, the necessary contemporary updates – structural renovation and repairs, as well as the addition of a spacious lobby, backstage areas for performers and other technical services – could be made. Herzog & de Meuron’s challenge was to extend the Stehlin Musiksaal in a way that would not reduce the integrity of the 1876, neo-Baroque hall. Various modifications over the years had created an architectural discord – removing old extensions from the rear façade, the practice found the ideal site for the new additions, using digital technology to reconstruct the exterior to its original scale.
Stadtcasino’s former entrance area and staircase was first removed in order to functionally disconnect the space with the concert hall. The architects collaborated with the Cantonal Department of Cultural Heritage on the interiors, restoring the building to the grandeur of its first renovation in 1905 and ensuring continued acoustic excellence. While the exterior work was aimed at simulation, the team explains, the interior emphasizes the ‘stylistic elements of the 19th century by heightening the artificiality of form, material, and colour’.
From re-opening a skylight and the windows as intended to reinstating the early-20th-century colour scheme, decades of overwriting was undone: Musiksaal’s first seating was recreated, a replica of its parquet flooring installed and its balcony incline reduced. The Stadtcasino’s distinguishing red brocade wallpaper was reproduced by Lyon’s Manufacture Prelle and Herzog & de Meuron developed a custom design for the wood parquetry to echo the patterns on the walls. And, harking back to the chandeliers once in the space, the glimmer of bespoke LED luminaires interacts with hammered metal elements on the ceilings.
Furthermore, the expansion gave way to new foyers and ‘loggia-like recesses’ on the staircases for intermission relaxing. The Hans Huber Saal and its accompanying foyer and dressing rooms, introduced during the 1905 renovation for chamber music, has benefitted from a refresh as well; a cooperation with the Department of Cultural Heritage, historical documents served as a reference for the accurate reconstruction of windows, panelling and doors.
Reopened on 22 August, the venue will host its 2020-21 programme within the boundaries of pandemic regulations.