There have long been grounds upon which to find Switzerland attractive – mountains and chocolate yes, buildings and culture double yes. But now it emerges that its notoriously famous architecture – think of Zürich, Basel and Geneva – might be reason enough to visit the great Helvetia.
According to a study by Thomson Reuters, Switzerland experienced a boom in the construction industry between 2009 and 2015 which has resulted in wonderful buildings across the country. Yet… coronavirus has ruined our travel plans (and dreams?) for the rest of 2020. Are we really pausing our enjoyement of architecture until we can – God forbid the expression – go back to a new normal?
I suppose I can’t wait that long, and neither should you. Switzerland’s many architecture charms – especially Basel’s – should be enjoyed right now. Today I bring to your attention one of my beloved 23-building lists with the intention to delight your eyes. Let me know in the comments… which is your favourite place on the list?
Though the city is dense and its architecture superb, I’ve curated this list knowing that I left out many important buildings. That’s why I encourage you to check the full Free Architecture Guide of Basel.
1. Basel Minster
Together with the Mittlere Brücke, the Basler Münster (Cathedral) is probably the most famous landmark in Basel. The former episcopal church – Basel Minster – was built between the years 1019 and 1500 in the Romantic and Gothic styles. The crypt, the chancel, the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Gallus gate and the two cloisters are witness to a fascinating tale of construction over a period of several centuries. The piazza in which the Cathedral stands is today a popular meeting place and is often used for concerts and events. It is also a personal favourite to sketch! Read more here.
Architect: Johannes Gmünd
Location: Münsterpl. 9, 4051 Basel (Google)
2. Basel University Library
With over 3 million items in its collections, Basel University Library is an epicentre of knowledge as much as it has become an architectural icon. The library originally began compiling its catalogue in volumes from 1559 to 1889 – collecting various subject publications without restriction – and nowadays It contains more than 3,000,000 documents, including 1,750 medieval manuscripts and numerous incunabula dating from the time of the Council of Basel (1431–87). In 1968 it moved to the current premises and in 1991 it got further refurbished by René Gautschi. Read more here.
Architect: Otto H. Senn
Location: Schönbeinstrasse 18-20, 4056 Basel (Google)
3. Basel Town Hall
Basel’s Rathaus, an elegant and lavishly decorated structure, was built between 1504 and 1514 according to designs by the architect Ruman Faesch. In 1521, the artist Hans Holbein the Younger was commissioned to decorate the Assembly Hall (fifteen years later he was making his mark in England as King’s Painter at the Court of Henry VIII). In the 1800s Basel’s growing prosperity and power necessitated additional administrative buildings to be developed. The coats of arms of Basel and the 11 other members of the then Confederation adorn the crenellations. Read more here.
Architect: Ruman Faesch
Location: Marktpl. 9, 4001 Basel (Google)
The Spalentor (Gate of Spalen) is the most magnificent and impressive of the three city gates still remaining from the city fortifications dating from 1400. Its square main tower, flanked on each side by two round towers, would have been seen long before arriving at the gates of the city. The façade facing away from the city is also decorated with three figures dating back to the 15th century – the Madonna and two prophets. The first city wall here was completed around 1080 under bishop Burkhard von Fenis. A newer wall was constructed around 1230, which is known as the Inner Wall. Read more here.
Location: Spalenvorstadt, 4056 Basel (Google)
5. Fine Arts Museum Basel
The Kunstmuseum Basel’s new building redefines a prominent location in the heart of the Basel. The new and enlarged museum consists of two buildings that together form a unified presence in the urban space. They are in direct communication with each other across the street that runs between them. The new building’s roofline is leveled with that of the existing structure, so it meets its counterpart on an equal footing; its entrance looks out toward the main building’s arcades, which conversely enjoy an excellent view of its striking façade. The new building’s distinctive inverted corner is a symbolic response to the old Kunstmuseum’s no less distinctive projecting corner. Read more here.
Architects: Christ & Gantenbein
Location: St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel (Google)
6. Nomad Hotel
This little gem of a building, located on an unassuming street at Brunngässlein, has recently been transformed into a playful hotel. The original property, created by architects Bräuning, Leu and Dürig figures in the inventory of listed buildings and shows characteristic features of their creation time in the 1950s. The two-piece ensemble consists of a seven-storey front and a five-storey rear building, connected by a common ground floor. The facade of the original building has been preserved and restored, returning it to its original raw concrete surface. Luckily for me, I called Nomad Hotel my home in Basel. Don’t miss the camel head mask . Read more here.
Architects: Bräuning, Leu, Dürig and Buchner Bründler
Location: Brunngässlein 8, 4052 Basel (Google)
7. Stadtcasino Basel
Stadtcasino Basel is the newest addition to the city; and yes, Herzog & de Meuron were the architects behind the stunning refurbishing (they didn’t sponsor this list, if you are wondering). Of the original Casino-Gesellschaft, designed by architects Kehlstadt & Brodtbeck in 1939, only the Kunsthalle, the Skulpturenhalle, and the Musiksaal have survived. From 2000 there was a project to build a new Stadtcasino. Although an international competition was held for architects (and a winner was announced) the voters of the canton of Basel-Stadt refused permission in 2007 to proceed with the new building. In 2010, Herzog & de Meuron proposed a better solution and finally in 2020, the new Stadtcasino opened to the public. Read more here.
Architects: Melchior Berri and Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Konzertgasse 1, 4051 Basel (Google)
Brunnmatt school, completed in 1965, was the third building by Walter M. Förderer, and you can see his signature clear-cut, sculptural style and polygonal, nested structures already in place. Though most of it purely ornamental, and thus not exactly textbook brutalist, Förderer was nevertheless a faithful disciple in spirit. The Swiss architect and sculptor certainly had a knack for using raw concrete in a highly neo-expressionist way and is best known for his monumental sacral buildings, such as Heiligkreuz in Chur and St Nicolas in Hérémence (Canton of Valais). His radically gestural school complex marked a bold departure from the functionalist, steel-and-glass modernism and cottage-style defining Switzerland’s architectural landscape in the early 60’s. Read more here.
Architect: Walter M. Förderer
Location: Ingelsteinweg 6, 4053 Basel (Google)
9. Bahnhof Basel SBB
As its name suggests, Basel SBB is owned by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS); it opened in 1854, and was completely rebuilt in 1900–1907. The 1907 neo-baroque station building is a heritage site of national significance and it has become Europe’s busiest international border station. The asymmetrical layout creates an external appearance representative of the federal buildings of the time. The station building is aligned to the centre line of the Centralbahnplatz and features a huge glazed Tudor arch window between two clock towers under curved domes. Large murals dating from the 1920’s advertise tourist destinations in Switzerland. Read more here.
Architects: Emil Faesch and Emanuel La Roche
Location: Centralbahnstrasse 10, 4051 Basel (Google)
Built from unfinished exposed concrete between 1925 and 1927, the church in the St. Johann district was, in fact, Switzerland’s first concrete place of worship. Although often mockingly referred to as ‘the soul silo’ initially, the striking building is now considered an architectural highlight. The 62-metre-high church tower can be seen for miles around. In 1928 Karl Moser, the architect, president of the newly founded Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (an organisation, steered prominently by the pioneers of modernism) Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, which championed rational and functionalist architecture, while critiquing the type of revivalist architecture typified by Moser’s own work. Indeed, it was at this time that Moser’s own work changed radically towards modernism, exemplified in the St. Anthony’s (Antoniuskirche) in Basel. Read more here.
Architect: Karl Moser
Location: Kannenfeldstrasse 35, 4056 Basel (Google)
11. Novartis Campus
The St. Johann campus has been turned into a modern workplace including first-class architecture and exquisite design. The project benefits the company, its employees and the city of Basel, which has been the home base of Novartis for more than 20 years. The campus includes numerous buildings by reputed architects such as Diener & Diener, Sejima & Nishizawa (SANAA), Frank O. Gehry, David Chipperfield, Tadao Ando and others as well as various artworks and green areas. Novartis donates the majority of the proceeds of the tour to an internationally or locally renowned social institution. Guided tours on selected Saturdays allow the visitor to see the office and laboratory buildings from the outside, with expert guidance around the facility by Novartis employees. Read more here.
Architects: Gehry, Diener & Diener, Tadao Ando…
Location: Novartis Campus, Fabrikstrasse 2, 4056 Basel (Google)
12. Maurerhalle of Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel
Hermann Baur was the designer of the General Trade School, now the Basel College of Art and Design and the Industrial Trade School. This good-looking structure was completed in 1961. The Maurer Halle is one of the four buildings grouped around a courtyard with a Hans Arp sculpture and its vaulted ceiling is spectacular: The walls of the Art College are raw concrete both exterior and interior. The General Trade School is one of Basel’s best pieces of late 1950s architecture. Read more here.
Architect: Hermann Baur
Location: Vogelsangstrasse 15, 4058 Basel (Google)
13. Messe Basel
Messe Basel, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, has become an icon of the city. The concentration of exhibition halls around the Messeplatz (Exhibition Square) is also an important urban planning matter for the development of the surrounding Kleinbasel neighbourhood, aimed at regaining outlying exhibition spaces on the present Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) area for apartments, offices and small businesses while simultaneously upgrading the Messeplatz as a focal point in Kleinbasel. The Messeplatz is a pedestrian and cyclist precinct so you can take your time to snap a photo. Read more here.
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Messepl. 10, 4005 Basel (Google)
14. Jazz Campus
Completed in 2013, Jazz Campus is a building dedicated to all things jazz. The result is a diverse volume with a courtyard in the centre. The only common ground was the need for daylight and an atmosphere of private cosiness. The space palette with over 50 different rehearsal rooms is completed by 3 characteristic recording and performance rooms such as a wooden sound body with a flying acoustic sky, an introverted performance room combined with a professional recording studio and a jazz club which opens up to the city and serves as an interface to the public. Read more here.
Architects: Buol & Zünd
Location: Utengasse 15, 4058 Basel (Google)
15. Werkraum Warteck Stairs
Werkraum Warteck Brewery was originally built in 1891 and later extended by Suter & Burckhardt in 1933. As part of the recent conversion in 2013, a series of public spaces have been created over a total of nine floors. A metal staircase (designed by Stefan Eisele and Fabian Nichele), erected outside the building, provides access for the broader public. The lighting was not only to be designed to guarantee a feeling of safety after dark, but also to render the staircase the focus of attention in the space. The converted Warteck building now offers space for a variety of creative cultural activities and attracts large numbers of visitors, guests and young artists. Read more here.
Architects: Fabian Nichele und Stefan Eisele
Location: Burgweg 7, 4058 Basel (Google)
16. Roche Tower
Building 1 is the tallest and most distinctive building on the Roche site in Basel, marking a progression from the development plan that has gradually emerged out of the original Hoffmann-La Roche AG industrial complex. Building 2 (Bau 2) is underway and will be the highest building in Switzerland when completed. The continued development of the Roche grounds follows the 2006 plan drawn up by Roche to introduce structural clarity by locating research and development in the northern sector and the global corporate headquarters in the southern sector. In designing the 178m tower, the main focus was on developing a high-rise typology that visualizes and fosters the internal organization and communication within the various departments. The tower houses approximately 2000 workplaces relating to various departments previously scattered throughout the city. Read more here.
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Grenzacherstrasse 124, 4058 Basel (Google)
17. Museum Tinguely
With his museum situated on the Rhine, Mario Botta created an unusual stage for Tinguely’s works. Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) was a Swiss sculptor best known for his kinetic art sculptural machines (known officially as metamechanics) that extended the Dada tradition into the later part of the 20th century. In the huge central hall alone there is space for twenty machine-sculptures. The southern façade giving on to the river presents a special architectural feature: an elongated suspended section detached from the body of the building. Facing the park, on the opposite side, the museum consists of five sections, three of which open onto the park through a wide porch. Read more here.
Architects: Mario Botta
Location: Paul Sacher-Anlage 2, 4058 Basel (Google)
18. Fondation Beyeler
The Beyeler Foundation museum came into being when arts patron and collector Ernst Beyeler decided to share his extraordinary art collection with the public. It was built in the park of the 18th-century Villa Berower, which houses the museum’s offices and a restaurant. Beyeler wanted the art to be lit entirely by natural light and the museum to be immersed in the surrounding greenery. Keeping Ernst Beyeler’s love of natural light in mind, special attention was given to the design of the roof: a veritable ‘machine for zenithal light’. The glass roof is made up of layers of glass that filter the direct sunlight softly (50%) into the interior and ensure the works of art are not damaged. It is held in place by a steel structure and features an overhanging canopy. Slanted, screen-printed plates of tempered glass placed at an angle over vertical steel box beams are set over insulating laminated safety glass. A new extension by Zumthor is scheduled and waiting for funding. Read more here.
Architect: Renzo Piano
Location: Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Riehen (Google)
19. Vitra International
Not to be mistaken with Frank Gehry’s other buildings at the Vitra Campus of Weil am Rhein (point 22 of this list), Vitra International is the extension of their HQ in Basel, which was completed in 1994. Vitra is a Swiss family-owned furniture company with headquarters in Birsfelden (Switzerland) and is the manufacturer of the works of many internationally renowned furniture designers. The campus includes research and development for the furniture company and the latest addition is an open and bright design that takes advantage of views of surrounding nature. Read more here.
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: Klünenfeldstrasse 22, 4127 Birsfelden (Google)
20. FHNW Campus Muttenz
The new Campus Muttenz building, completed in 2018, is home to FHNW, one of Switzerland’s leading universities of applied sciences and arts, actively involved in teaching and research. The cubic structure forms the dominant end in the row of massive commercial buildings on the Muttenzer Geleisefeld. In terms of the master plan, it becomes the foyer of the polyfield, at the same time it functions as the central lounge of the university. The building combines its concise form with the central space concept of an atrium. Read more here.
Architect: Pool Architekten
Location: Hofackerstrasse 30, 4132 Muttenz (Google)
21. Actelion Pharmaceuticals
In contrast to the densely built-up surroundings with rigidly defined shapes, the new Actelion Business Center building, completed in 2010, is an open structure comprising beam-like elements, stacked on top of one another, which change their appearance depending on the angle from which they are viewed. The spaces between the beam structures allow for visual connections inward and outward to the adjacent laboratories, nearby office buildings and sports fields. The apparently random arrangement of the office beams not only provides unusual views within and to the outside, but also generates terraces and courtyards in many different sizes and qualities for employees to work, take breaks, and gather to meet formally or informally. Read more here.
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Gewerbestrasse 16, 4123 Allschwil (Google)
22. Vitra Campus
The Vitra Campus is simultaneously a fully operational production site and a field of experimentation for architecture and design. The remarkable ensemble of contemporary architecture brings together the commercial and cultural aspects of the Swiss furniture manufacturer. My favourite structure is the Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, her first built commission. It consists of spaces for fire engines, showers and changing rooms for the firemen as well as a conference room and a kitchenette. Vitra decided to disband its fire brigade a few years later and since that time, the rooms have been used for events and exhibitions held by the Vitra Design Museum. Read more here.
Architect: Zaha Hadid
Location: Müllheimer Str. 56, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany (Google)
Though technically not located in Basel, the Goetheanum is a sight near Basel you don’t want to miss. Located in Dornach, a little municipality near Basel, the first Goetheanum (completed in 1925), was burnt down by an unknown detractor. The one you see today was finished in 1928. The exposed concrete (still quite rare in the 20’s), huge and strange interior spaces, the curves and lack of any decoration are some of the features that make this building so impressive. Rudolf Steiner’s architecture is characterized by liberation from traditional architectural constraints, especially through the departure from the right-angle as a basis for the building plan. Read more here.
Architect: Rudolf Steiner
Location: Rüttiweg 45, 4143 Dornach (Google)
Check these and other beautiful locations on the map below or download the Free Architecture Guide of Basel.