The architects Herzog & de Meuron designed an unusual space for Schaulager. Their task was to design a warehouse for the open storage of contemporary art that had optimal climatic conditions and was available by appointment. The building was also intended to be a site for conservation, research and dissemination. Rather than an anonymous warehouse, the spacious building was to be conceived so as to produce a specific and unique place.
The goal was to create a warehouse for works of contemporary art that would occupy considerably less space than they would in a museum context thanks to being hung more closely together on the walls and placed more closely together on the floor. The art stored under optimal climatic conditions in this way should be accessible by appointment. There would also be several purpose-built exhibition spaces for installations whose extraordinary dimensions or technical challenges meant they could not be exhibited optimally in the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel (Museum of Contemporary Art). Offices and workshops, an auditorium and the necessary facilities for loading and unloading artworks complete the programme for the space.
In their first sketches, the architects tried to reduce and concentrate the idea of storage as directly as possible into a single vertical and horizontal plane. An enormous wall would have held all the wall-based works, hung immediately next to one another as in a second-hand store; the other works of art would have been distributed on the floor without any partition walls. The vertical and horizontal storage would have allowed for an overall view of the collection at a glance. Technical and curatorial considerations of maintenance and transport soon sent the project in a different direction: it became clear that a normal warehouse with stable floors and walls and a great span width provided the greatest advantages and, paradoxically, would also offer the most flexibility.
Subsequently, the architects of Herzog & de Meuron sought to develop an architectural concept that would express the idea of storage and stacking on floors in a visual way as well: as something lasting and stable in contrast to today's aesthetic of computer-controlled warehouses and the inevitable light-construction materials. The heavy outer walls were built up in layers and their outer surface scratched. The walls thus exposed the pebbles excavated for the building. These material layers were not only a simple and visual expression of weight and storage but also, as a result of their great inertia, an essential factor in the climate control of the warehouse interior.
The external form of the warehouse is derived very pragmatically from the geometry of the interior storage arrangement and the minimum distances from the edge of the lot as established by the building code. The result is a polygonal building which looks as if it had been extruded from the material obtained on site and the ground. On the side facing Emil-Frey-Strasse, the polygon is somewhat indented, creating a kind of forecourt, so that the entrance side is visible from a great distances. This entrance appears to be guarded by a small building with a gabled roof, built of the same earthy material as the warehouse. Together, the small gatehouse and the indented side of the warehouse form a courtyard-like space which radiates urbanism and publicness. Schaulager is thus not simply an anonymous warehouse somewhere on the urban periphery, but rather a place that is usually quiet but nevertheless active and self-confident, expanding the public dimension of the city of Basel to the south, towards the new district of Dreispitz/Münchenstein. The public, urban character of this new place is reinforced by the two large LED displays in the entrance hall, which are intended to display for the outside world images that have been commissioned from artists by Schaulager.
Walls, Windows and Surfaces as Digital LandscapesThe pebbles recovered from the excavated materials were used to construct the walls. They also determined the forms and structures of the surfaces of other parts of the building, both inside and out. The lines of windows resemble natural forms. In reality, they are forms calculated and produced by digitally controlled tools, reproducing on a larger scale the patterns of the natural forms of the pebbles. This resulted in a kind of artificial-natural landscape within the window openings. The windows do not serve primarily to provide a prospect of some insignificant cityscape of the urban periphery but are shaped as landscapes unto themselves.
The architects employed the same digital landscape profile for the linings for the walls and ceilings in the entrance hall. A kind of rolling out of the profile resulted in a cave-like, white polished surface structure.
By contrast, the lattice sheet metal used in the auditorium and on the gates represents a far more direct translation of the natural models of the pebble surfaces - namely, a primitive frottage process that was transferred to a printing pattern at a 2:1 scale.
An Entrance Hall with an OverviewThe ceiling panels of all the interior floors are cut so as to produce an atrium-like space equal in height to the building. The surprising perspectival effect of this entrance hall is based on the two simplest basic elements of a warehouse: the ceiling panels, which are arranged here to appear stacked, and the lighting, which is organized in a strictly linear arrangement.
This entrance hall offers an overview of all the building's spatial levels and provides views into the distance of the various floors. The two lower floors in particular open up as one enters: this is where the exhibition halls for temporary exhibitions as well as for the permanent installations by Gober and Fritsch are located. The spaces are six meters high and can be divided using movable partitions. The upper floors are subdivided in a cell-like fashion and are used as purpose-built storage areas for the collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation.
Apportionment of the SpaceAt 7,250 square metres, art storage on the three upper stories occupies the bulk of the total area of 16,500 square metres. There are 3,650 square metres on the ground floor and in the basement available for exhibitions. The permanent installations by Robert Gober and Katharina Fritsch occupy 260 and 390 square metres, respectively. The administration occupies 800 square metres. The art handling department and the workshops occupy another 800 square metres. The 144-seat auditorium and the seminar room occupy 250 square metres. The remaining 3,100 square metres are for technical and other facilities.