Tonight, the first posting in the 'Not PC: Architecture v Architecture' debate, the introduction to which is in the post just below this one. The post this evening is by blogger and architect Den MT. Comments are welcome, in fact they are invited - except by me.
People generally conceive of 'architecture' as grand gesture - public institutions, glamorous housing for the well-off, and showy displays of cultural plumage.
What is great about this building is that it is a simple, pragmatic building - a railway signal box, which has become an object of intrigue, excitement, and beauty through the skilful interrogation of the brief by the architects.
On a purely pragmatic level, the building's primary function is the housing of sensitive electronic switching gear for the railyards at Basel, and as such, the brief called for some form of shielding from external electrical effects. The response of the architects was to create a 'Faraday Cage' by winding the building in copper cladding, effectively creating an insulating coil.
The master stroke was the investigation by Herzog and de Meuron of how this cladding could be used to enliven such a prosaic structure. Each 20mm wide strip of copper has been twisted as it runs across the face of the building, allowing the passage of daylight into the building, but at the same time creating a translucent, shimmering effect on the outside, which enlivens the building form, creating a sense of mystery as to what the simple 'box' might contain. The simple rectilinear plan form has been warped and twisted to conform to the parameters of the surrounding rail lines, attesting to the speed and power inherent in rail transport.
This building demonstrates that 'architecture' is not simply for the elite - that there is no distinction between 'architecture' and building. True inspiration can spring from the most banal and mundane requirements.