Rio de Janeiro-based writer Robert Landon has shared with us his experience exploring the work/live space of Atelier Gados, designed by female-led powerhouse of Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten.
Thrusting out of a green hillside in an upscale suburb of Basel, Switzerland, Atelier Gados seems deliberately to announce its difference from its staid neighbors – as it should. For Atelier Gados — the work of the young Basel-based Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten — is not just another conventional family residence, but the workshop of an avant-garde Basel clothing designer. In a little bourgeois valley otherwise divided into atomistic, private worlds, Atelier Gados is a place of commerce, a site of creation, an unlikely threshold where public and private are made to meet.
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This unusual yoking continues once you head inside, since the atelier is also deeply integrated into the designer’s own home (built in the 1960s), with no firm or final boundary between store and workshop or workshop and living areas. Indeed, the beauty of Atelier Gados lies exactly in the way Rahbaran Hürzeler have bridged — or perhaps the better phrase is stitched together — so many competing demands, not just structurally but also programmatically and aesthetically.
Before joining forces a few years ago, the firm’s founders — Iranian-born Shadi Rahbaran and Swiss-born Ursula Hürzeler — built up illustrious resumes. Rahbaran cut her teeth working under Rem Koolhaas at OMA, while Ursula Hurzeler is a veteran of Herzog & de Meuron, whose offices sit just down the street from Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten. How do the women harmonize these two titanic influences? Quite well, they say. Yes, Herzog & de Meuron are perfectionistic to the last millimeter, whereas OME is willing to forgive certain flaws if the concept is strong enough. However, both are willing to “try something new, to always push the boundaries,” says Hürzeler. Above all, both OMA and Herzog & de Meuron believe “you should not apply your own solutions to a project, but find the solutions within the project itself,” says Rahbaran.
Certainly the Atelier Gados makes good on this principle. The architects had to wrestle with a long list of restraints, including a steep hillside site, strict zoning regulations, and the desire of the client to preserve as much as possible the qualities of her original home. The bravura move was to create a 7m-long cantilevered overhang. First, it provides a useful visual difference from the domestic buildings around it. Just as important, it carves out workable space on a hillside site that would otherwise be nearly useless. Finally, the form literally thrusts itself away from the existing home, thus disturbing it as little as possible.
As you head inside Atelier Gados, you encounter a series of spaces that are delightful to be in and move through. They are at once cozily enveloping and spacious beyond the cubic feet they occupy, with windows that cleverly structure views of the surrounding hills. Other pleasures are subtler. For example, an apparent purity of materials and forms is belied by a surprising progression of shapes. As you move from entrance to shop to work area, squares and rectangles are stretched, twisted and crushed into trapezoids and parallelograms, as if the building’s design has had to accommodate itself (beautifully) to the formal difficulties of its genesis.
Architects: Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten Location: Muttenz, Switzerland Project: 2009-2010 Execution: 2010-2011 Structural Engineering : ZPF Engineers Ltd. – Sali Sadikaj, Nico Ros Writer: Robert Landon Photographers: Paul Clemence, Eik Frenzel, Philomene Hoel