BASEL – With notoriously massive urban redevelopments of former industrial complexes currently underway, Basel is a city in which new and old have come to coexist quite intimately. This notion proves equally present on a smaller scale, as with Swiss firm HHF’s recent renovations to a series of apartments in the St. Johann district. The architects restored three of the four houses dating from 1902 along the corner of Lichtstrasse and Kraftstrasse, while building one – Lichtstrasse 9 – completely anew.
Though the contemporary structure’s irregular, sharp-wedged balconies and unusual colour scheme brazenly clash with the traditional, row-house façades, it shares an interior with the existing Lichstrasse 11. A new restaurant spanning the ground floors of both structures highlights this unity, preserving the design of Lichtstrasse 11 as much as possible while introducing alongside it a concrete and white-tile décor akin to a modern butcher shop. Founding partner Simon Hartmann elaborates more on the project.
What were the deciding factors in which buildings would be preserved?
The new building takes the place of a nice but generic house that stood in an awkward position for the common stairwell we had designed to connect Lichtstrasse 9 and 11. The other houses were both in better physical condition and more aesthetically interesting in layout and appearance.
Were there any particular inspirations for the new building?
The softness of the façade is inspired by the bamboo structure of construction sites in Hong Kong we encountered during our travels to China.
Could you discuss the materials used in the intervention?
We tried to use the most logical, raw materials for each of the building elements. Paint and plaster were strictly limited to considerations of humidity and longevity within reasonable economic terms. As a notable exception to this rule, we treated the outer face of the new building in two shades of green as an optical extension of the park across the street. In other words, the park starts on your balcony.
Was there a conscious intention to play with the boundary between old and new in this project?
Residents confront this boundary no matter where they are in the building. We deliberately blurred the duality of condition to maximise the variety of ambience. The restaurant has a new part and an old part. The new common staircase retains the old wall facing the courtyard in its texture and windows. The apartments span from lofty, new spaces to older, renovated ones – all of which look, sound and feel different.