Disparaged by some as being unfinished or even “monstrous”, concrete buildings are among the highlights of 20th-century architecture for connoisseurs of the subject. Innovations in construction technology, the war experience and the resulting search for new forms of expression prepared the ground for the best-known style of these buildings – Brutalism (from the French “béton brut”, meaning “raw concrete”), which enjoyed its heyday between the 1950s and 1970s.
Located in close proximity to the Swiss SBB railway station, the Markthalle is the ideal starting point for this tour of Basel’s concrete icons; it opened in 1929 and was used as a market hall for fresh produce up until 2004. These days, you can enjoy culinary delights from all around the world beneath the 27-metre-high dome.
The tour takes you past Schützenmattpark to Antoniuskirche – St. Anthony’s Church. This imposing sacral building constructed by Karl Moser between 1925 and 1927 is graced with richly coloured windows by stained-glass artists Otto Staiger and Hans Stocker.
Founded in 1460, the University of Basel has been collecting and preserving books for centuries; however, they weren’t made available for study – in the reading room of the University Library (designed by Hans Otto Senn) – until 1968. Given the “Quiet, please!” rule inside the building, the adjoining Botanical Garden is the best place for marvelling at the domed construction.
The tour continues over the Rhine and through Kleinbasel before reaching Silo Erlenmatt. Built in 1912 based on plans by Rudolf Sandreuter, it served as a grain warehouse for many years. Since 2020, it’s been home to a hotel that bills itself as “a platform for young talents from the hotel and gastronomy industry” – meaning that the younger generation is now firmly in charge. The repurposing architects, Harry Gugger Studio, succeeded in largely retaining the basic structure of the reinforced-concrete building.
The nearby Maurerhalle (Masonry Hall), designed by Hermann Baur and completed in 1961, still serves its original purpose as a place of learning for art, design and general trade. Following a gentle refurbishment, the entire building complex has been Minergie-certified since 2010.
Continuing onward through Kleinbasel’s Wettstein quarter and up the Rhine, the tour leads to the turbine hall at the Birsfelden power plant. Designed by Hans Hofmann – who also came up with the design for the Rundhofhalle at Messe Basel – this light-filled hall was inaugurated in 1954.
The route then passes through the St. Alban district and leads back to the city centre, where the Theater Basel awaits. The famous Fasnachtsbrunnen – a fountain designed by Jean Tinguely – affords a great view of the theatre’s enormous, concrete suspension roof. Designed by architects Schwarz, Gutmann and Gloor, this theatre building opened its doors to the public in 1975. After this, the tour ends where it started – at the Markthalle.
For more information about Brutalist buildings in Basel, visit heartbrut.com
This e-bike tour was designed in collaboration with heartbrut’s Karin Bürki.