Miller Maranta - Switzerland
Apartment Building Schwarzpark
Gellertstrasse 135 - 137, Basel
2001 - 2004


The apartment building Schwarzpark in Basel is the result of an achitectural competition, which was won by the local architects Miller & Maranta in 2001.
The competition was announced by the building construction and planning department of the city of Basel. As part of a municipal programme,
the building was intended to contribute to the inventory of high quality apartments within ownership of the city Basel, and thus help prevent the migration
of wealthy Basel citizens to the environs. In addition the competition asked for large apartments suitable for families with children. The design had to compete
with the qualities of a generous "Living in the country", but at the same time came under the strict requirements of municipal housing.
Already the competition dictated the cooperation with a general contractor to implement a mandatory costs compliance.

Located in the so called Gellert city district on the outskirts of Basel, the urban surroundings constitute a challenging context for the architects. The neighbouring
edification is characterized at the same time by an atmosphere of dignified bourgois and unsophisticated postwar modernism. In the 19th century this area was
the largest and most representative residential quarter of the city. I
n the 1950s and 60s multi-storey residential buildings emerged according to an overall planning,
which aimed to preserve the original character of a preferred residential district in park-like surroundings, by introducing the new buildings as solitary volumes
in the open space. If the Gellert district can be considered as a successfull fullfillment of the modernist promise for a green residential city, this can't be applied
to Birsfelden, located in the immediate vicinity and marked by
equally monotonous as schematic large housing developments, which were realized in the 1970s.
The apartment building Schwarzpark by Miller & Maranta is located precisely at this joint between two different urban development patterns, which at the same time
marks the border between the cantons Basel-Stadt (city) and Basel-Land (country). For the architects, the question was how to deal with such a complex and
contradictory urban structure and how an architectural design is able to respond to these conditions of this given city environment, without resorting
to a stereotype development pattern or crude sensationalism and yet to obtain an autonomous meaning.

The apartment building is located in the so-called Schwarzpark, which is considered as a relic of the bourgeois age, and concentrates the space program
 in an eight-storey volume. Positioned on the edge of the park the building assures that the park is kept free of constructions and at the same time
also clearly marks the building site on the outskirts of Basel. Due to its urban setting as well as its architectural language, the new building contrasts
with the immediately adjacent buildings in Birsfelden and fits into the urban structure of the Gellert quarter, exposing at the same time its autonomy
through its architectural expression. The plasticity of the building volume is the result of two kinks in plan, integrating the building into the parkscape of old trees
as a free form body. These kinks also give the building its architectural conciseness and allows all apartments to be orientated to the park. The design of
a cantilevered, table-like structure makes the building volume appear to float above the ground, and at the same time emphasizes the expression of an autonomous
residential building in the park. The building can therefore be interpreted as a prelude or conclusion of the quarter, as the first or the last building in the park.

Pedestrians reach the apartment building via the old park and curving paths leading to the glazed entrances. The two spacious lobbies penetrate
the building in the transverse direction. One enters the lobbies on the ground floor through the doors in a floor to ceiling glazing. The view through the glazing
as well as the thermal openness of the entrance halls results to a strong relationship to the surrounding park. When entering into the introverted stairwells,
however the impression changes. Only sparsely lit by a skylight, this interverted perception is even more emphasized by the stairwell hole.
The uniform color concept and the reduced and clear design of the banisters underline the assignment and function of the stairwell as common space and access zone.
Through the use of dark pigmentation, the cement flooring was also adjusted to the glazed support structure of the stair. By these means the interior of the stairwell,
which is accessed via the open lobby, is experienced as part of the outer space. Due to their uniform dark glaze, the fašade, the entrance halls and the stairways
are to be understood as external building elements. Only with the entrance into the apartment one gets into the inner, in the private sector. Decreasing light
and increasing density celebrate the experience of coming home. Arriving in the apartments, this principle is reversed.

A total of 31 apartments are arranged around the two stairwells, the standard floorplan shows four units per story, the only exception is the raised ground floor.
In the middle part of the building on each floor are organized two 3-bedroom apartments, featuring a living room which extends over the entire depth of the building.
At the ends of the building are arranged two 4-bedroom apartments, which develop on three sides of the building. In relation to traditional models of burgois living,
the floor plan organization of all flats is based on a well sized central space. The traditional designation as hall or hallway, would however be inadequate,
because it neither serves only as an access zone to other rooms, nor does it stand out hierarchically as a representative entree
among the other rooms.
Rather it could be interpreted as an internal room around which the apartments are grouped. This space has now specific characteristic, is of an identical materialization
and color as the other rooms, and appears as an additional room to be furnished. These features enhance the relationship to the other rooms and creates
a
spatial continuity that contributes to the generosity of the apartment. However, the apartments are not experienced as a linear array of rooms,
as a spatial sequence in the traditional sense of an enfilade, but rather as an open, reticulated space configuration, allowing for perspectives and cross-references
across several spaces. The
building and apartment typology chosen by Miller & Maranta for the Schwarzpark apartment building advocates for the modern,
but also leaves room for a traditional, bourgeois way of life.

On the exterior the building is characterized by a grid-like structure made of dark glazed concrete, which surrounds the whole building. Windows and balconies
are integrated in this lattice structure. The external structure of the grid reveals the logic of space arrangement in the interior and provides a general framework
for individual furnishing. The differentiation of the superordinate structure is formed by the occupancy, the architecture plays with the physical anonymity of the city.
The fašade is a hybrid construction consisting of precast elements and in situ concrete without expansion joints. The fašade is conceived as a self-supporting system
posed in front of the structure of the building interior. With specially manufactured tools, the individual components could be connected in a single operation.
The decisive factor was the precise alignment of the parapet elements. The building is insulated on the inside as a logical consequence of the chosen construction design.
The thermal characteristics and solar panels on the roof of the apartment building qualify it as a sustainable construction according to Swiss standards.