Invited Competition

Natural History Museum
& Cantonal Archives Basel

Museum & Archive Building Basel

Natural History Museum & Cantonal Archives Basel, CH

The City of Basel plans to relocate its oldest museum and its oldest institution onto a single narrow site on the edge of the city. This diverse and complex location is bounded to the west by the industrial character of the train tracks, to the north by an elevated flyover and to the east by the residential grid of the city.

Given the complexity of the site, and the detailed operational requirements of the two institutional programs, we have looked to synthesise and optimise their logical distribution and interior organisation within the allowable urban volume.

The programmatic requirements of the Cantonal Archives (StABS) make it ideally suited to occupy a large portion of the basement area in addition to the high-rise element of the zoning envelope. This in turn enables the Natural History Museum (NMB) to occupy the majority of the site within a long low-lying volume that maximises both its footprint and its street frontage.

By splitting the aboveground program into these two autonomous urban volumes, a generous shared entrance space is formed. This curved forecourt, activated by a public café, is aligned with Hüningerstrasse and completes the definition of Vogesenplatz.

Above ground the museum is split into two zones along its full length. Its main exhibition spaces are distributed over three column-free, artificially lit levels towards the tracks, these spaces run parallel to the support, research, technical and administration areas clustered over four naturally lit and ventilated levels facing the street. The longitudinal ‘interface’ of this bipartite organisation is maximised on all levels to expose the operational spaces of the museum and reveal the daily operation of the museum to visitors.

Whereas the NMB is organised horizontally along its length, the StABS tower exploits its verticality to arrange its program efficiently level by level in a series of optimised floor plates. The more public functions are located on the towers lower levels around a large void that overlooks the city. Above this are two identical floors of workshops, reprographic and restoration studios and two further floors of administrative and staff spaces.

The full extent of the site is maximised belowground with four levels of basement split evenly between the institutions to give each two contiguous floors. StABS occupies the security and larger surface area of the lower two levels affording the museum the maximum amount of connection to the public, technical & operational spaces on the levels immediately above. This split arrangement further enables both institutions to be connected to the shared delivery area at the southern end of the site with no operational conflict.

Together, the two institutions form a single depot complex at once an ‘archive of life’ and at the same time an ‘archive of the city’.