Our Basel building still relevant 70+ years later

Planning for the people: Otto R. Salvisberg and Basel’s Building 21.

On 14 February 1936, architect Otto Rudolf Salvisberg handed over the key to Building 21 with the following words: “May this administrative building and the form it takes convey an  impression of our time to future generations; may its wide open windows and bright interiors outlive the age of closed walls and bring good fortune and blessings to those who have built it.”

Seventy-seven years later, those who work in this building are still aware of its symbolic importance (even though they may be craving air conditioning on a hot summer day). Standing among 21st-century Buildings 92 and 97 and Building 1 as it grows out of the ground, the solid stone edifice on the Basel site has come to represent the values that the architect invoked when he handed over the keys all those years ago. Timeless yet steeped in history, the building has withstood the test of time and is today still the place where the company’s future is planned, not least because it is home to the Corporate Executive Committee.

Born in 1882 in Köniz near Bern, Otto Salvisberg always had a knack for robust ground plans and details. His constructions were always technologically avant-garde, with every last corner designed to suit people’s needs. With their copious, clearly defined grids, the architectural plans for Building 21 bear testimony to Salvisberg’s penchant for structure. His love of detail is readily apparent in the plans as well: He even drew toothbrush glasses above the wash basins in the lavatories.

In addition to his duties as a professor at ETH Zurich, in 1934 he took on the position of Roche company architect. He designed buildings in Basel as well as facilities for Roche Milan. Salvisberg died unexpectedly during a skiing holiday in Arosa in 1940.

Roland Rohn, Salvisberg’s assistant from 1930 on, continued his architectural legacy. The Basel staff restaurant, Building 52 and Roche Grenzach all bear Rohn’s signature, and by association Salvisberg’s, too. A number of public buildings in the city of Basel also bring to mind Otto Salvisberg’s clarity and level-headedness, including the university’s collegiate building, another one of Rohn’s works.

Tags: Culture