After completing renovations for the Volkshaus brasserie and bar in 2012, Herzog & de Meuron completed the renovations of the Volkshaus hotel. The Volkshaus Basel, originally the castle bailiwick, has a rich history dating back to the 14th century. In 1845 a brewery with adjoining restaurant was built, with a concert hall and beer hall added later. The latest renovations in the 70s destroyed the original character and identity of the Volkshaus beyond recognition in the name of technical upgrades.
In line with the renovations of the brasserie, bar and small events halls back in 2012, Herzog & de Meuron hoped to discover historic layers by peeling back the ‘crust’ applied in the 70s. Soon the architects realized none of the original features survived except the windows. They had to refer back to the original plans and historical research for their design.
Historical plans of the bedrooms in the attic were one source of information—simple rooms with a bed, closet, and washbasin, of the kind still found in historical hotels today, especially in Switzerland. On the other floors, rows of closets lined the central corridor, interrupted by doors, placed flush, which led to administrative and conference rooms.
The studio had the idea of using a thick wall of storage space lining the corridors to enter the hotel rooms and also to accommodate closets as well as toilets and showers. Both facilities are integrated into the stained black oak wood closet that runs the entire length of the room. To implement this idea, the shower has to jut out slightly, thus rhythmically structuring the corridor. Ceramic tiles, glazed black and dark green underscore the feeling of being enveloped in these two spaces, which have been inserted into the closets with meticulous precision. Oval windows, like those in the brasserie and bar, afford a view into and above all out of the shower and toilet. In most of the rooms, the shower has been positioned to allow a view straight through the room and thus out of the window as well. The rest of the space is unobstructed, divided only by a central shaft clad in black glass, which also forms the back wall of the freestanding washbasin.
This wall disappears behind soft, thick curtains that face the room and can be drawn to close the sleeping area off from the entrance. The bed is centered directly in front of these curtains, with a headboard of oak slats that reference the beer garden benches designed specifically for the Volkshaus Basel. The windows have been elaborately restored as much as possible to their original state. The curtains are the same as those dividing the room, their pale green reflecting the green used repeatedly throughout the Volkshaus Basel. The wallpaper, showing etchings from the 17th century, bridges the centuries since the beginnings of the Volkshaus. When the curtains of the windows and room dividers are drawn, the “textile” bedroom becomes a place of warmth and shelter. The dark terrazzo floor resonates with the diversity of terrazzo flooring throughout the building. In addition to a simple table and the Volkshaus chair, conceived for the bar and brasserie, every room is furnished with a lounge chair which we designed. The matching ottoman can also serve as a luggage rack. Thanks to the careful and caring renovation of the historical building, none of the rooms are identical and each has a character of their own.
The new lobby on the ground floor is a companion to the bar, somewhat like a “negative” or a copy, same but different, with the color concept inverted. The mosaic floor is black and green, the walls above the wainscoting, and the ceilings are painted white. We have also reinstated the entry through the original door, with flanking “window vitrines”, as the central access to the beer garden and concert halls. As in 1925, the lobby once again accommodates a shop for smaller items. Along with the 2012 renovation of the bar and the brasserie, as well as the beer garden and the adjoining halls, the completion of the hotel has re-created the Volkshaus Basel, with its diversity of uses, as a vibrant and exciting piece of the city within the city.