What happens when Bauhaus ideals, béton brut aesthetics and Swiss engineering join forces to build a workshop space for masonry apprentices in postwar Basel? Arguably one of the world’s most elegant concrete origami. If beauty is reduction, the architects serve it to you straight here: concrete folds, glass fronts and plenty of air form a plain shed in the size of a church hall (the folded roof spans over 30 metres!). The result is a timeless piece of brutally pure brilliance. Today Masonry Hall doubles as a lecture hall and multi-purpose studio facility. From their accurately lined-up desks, students can take in the play of light on the concrete expanse or ponder about the whistling noise hot concrete makes when you spill a cold drink on it.
Now you might wonder why they built a striking concrete church hall instead of a simple shed for masons and plasterers to learn their skills. Masonry Hall is part of Allgemeine Berufsschule Basel, a pioneering Bauhaus-inspired postwar school complex. Its chief architect, Hermann Baur, closely followed the principles of “student-based building”, characterised by as much light as possible, a vibrant colour design and cost-efficient building materials. The four school buildings assemble around a courtyard, which features a a concrete stele by artist Hans Arp. They are placed in such a way that freedom of movement and exposure to nature and art have a positive effect on the learning atmosphere in the class room. The human-centric scale and objectivity of the architecture sought to reflect the changed relationhsip betweeen the individual and authority.
Between 2006-2010 the school underwent a thorough refurbishment. Luckily, it is barely noticeable. Well aware of the historical and cultural significance of the – then still unlisted – school, the commissioning Basel Department of Public Works and Transport closely collaborated with the Division of the Prerservation of Monuments and Historic Buildings. Repair works concentrated on preserving the optical qualities of the buildings while optimising the energy efficiency to today’s standards. The new wood and metal windows retain the structure, profile and colour scheme of the original ones. Great care was taken to preserve the characteristic patina of the different types of concrete, especially in the area of the in parts heavily soiled facade. Rather than using high pressure cleaning, it was constantly washed with simple tap water over a period of time. With the help of state-of-the-art concrete cosmetics the tell-tale “concrete patch” could also be successfully avoided.