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Masonry Hall, Maurerhalle, Hermann Baur, Basel, Swiss brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Masonry Hall

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Concrete origami

What happens when Bauhaus ideals, béton brut aesthetics and Swiss engineering meet to create a workshop for apprentice bricklayers in post-war Basel?

Answer: Probably one of the world’s most elegant pieces of concrete origami. If beauty is reduction, then the architects have spared nothing: using concrete folds, glass and plenty of light, they have created a masterpiece of almost brutal brilliance and timelessness.

They certainly did. But a workshop with the appearance and dimensions – the roof folds span over 30 metres! – of a modernist church? Isn’t that a bit… excessive?

Admittedly, the idea of building a kind of concrete church for apprentice bricklayers sounds very – ambitious. Let’s throw in some context. The bricklaying hall is part of the Basel School of Design and the General Vocational School. Its lead architect, Hermann Baur, was strongly influenced by the ideas of the Bauhaus. He wanted to create a positive learning environment with functional, needs-based architecture, light-filled rooms and easy access to nature and art. Baur also built churches. In the post-war period, architecture served as a kind of proxy religion. Bold was cool.

Today, the Maurerhalle is used as a lecture hall and multifunctional space. From their accurately lined-up desks, students can enjoy the play of light on the concrete expanse or ponder on the whistling sound hot concrete makes when you spill a cold drink on it.

Between 2006 and 2010, the school, and in particular the dilapidated bricklayer’s hall, underwent a thorough, but barely visible overhaul. This is by design. The refresh focused on maintaining the architectural quality and bringing the energy efficiency to today’s standards. Great care was taken to preserve the characteristic concrete patina. Instead of the usual high-pressure cleaning, the concrete was continuously sprayed with tap water over several weeks. State-of-the-art concrete cosmetics was used to avoid the dreaded patches that occur when protective coatings are clumsily applied.
Masonry Hall, Maurerhalle, Hermann Baur, Basel, Swiss brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

101120-FLAMATT-I-©-HEARTBRUT-KARINBUERKI-1
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Flamatt II, Atelier 5, Wünnewil-Flamatt, Canton of Fribourg 1961. A Swiss pioneer of brutalist architecture © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Hardbruecke Bridge, Zurich, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com