Basel - Interviews

Basel Through an Architect’s Perspective: One Day in Basel with Andreas Ruby

2 years ago

As well as being the world’s most famous fair, Basel is also known for its amazing display of architectural marvels, so for this edition we decided to give our readers a special architecture itinerary courtesy of the director of the SAM Museum, Andreas Ruby, designed to help you enjoy the great local architecture on offer.

Basically, you could start your itinerary anywhere in the city, because you are bound to run into great buildings no matter which neighbourhood you are in. But if you are in Basel during the summer, you should start with the Rhine. Get a Wickelfisch – I recommend at Tarzan store, Spalenberg 39 – go to the Tinguely Museum and, ideally, after some instruction by a local, dip into the most incredible urban experience you can get of Basel. Feel the city as you float in between its two very different sides. To the left you will see the rocky cliffs of Grossbasel, to the right the wonderfully crowded urban embankments of Kleinbasel – and you should keep to the right, since that’s where you have to get ashore before Dreirosenbrücke. Once you have done that you will experience the architecture of the city no longer just visually, but viscerally. An ideal way to start the day is taking a morning bicycle tour to my personal favourite kind of cathedral, a most incredible infrastructural building – the power station Birsfelden (Hans Hofmann, 1951-54). The architect originally wanted people to be able to walk through it, using it as an indoor bridge to go across the river. That did not happen, but you see it well from outside too. It’s a James Bond location par excellence, and indeed I always think Roger Moore might show up any second behind one of the giant blue turbines.

You probably worked up an appetite, so it’s time to stop for lunch. Have you ever eaten inside a church? In Basel you can do this at Café Elisabethen which is situated in the base of the bell tower of Offene Kirche Elisabethen. They serve wonderful soups, and if the small service area is full, you can sit at additional tables in the nave of the church. I go there almost daily and often bring architects, so you might well spot some of them there.
After lunch, I suggest you go and see the incredible concrete St. Anton’s Church by Karl Moser (1925-27). Then head on to the Universitätsbibliothek at Schönbeinstrasse 18-20 and check out the interactive sculpture “Polyvolumes” by the stunning Brazilian artist Mary Vieira (who lived and worked in Basel for 30 years). There is another one of her sculptures in the nearby Pathology Building at Schönbeinstrasse 40. Dive into the amazing campus of Universitätsspital with its luscious greenery, outdoor art collection and discover one of the most remarkable hospital buildings I know of, the Klinikum 1 of Universitätsspital Basel by Hermann Baur and others, built between 1937-45. You can go up to its epic rooftop terrace that offers my favourite view over Basel.

If you feel like hitting something a little off the beaten tracks, the Rhine harbour Birsfelden is such an underexposed but incredibly powerful place. Just bike to Powerstation Birsfelden again and continue in the direction of Rheinfelden. This bike path actually leads through the harbour area which is unique since most other cities on the Rhine make their harbours off-limits to the public. But here someone really took infinite care to make sure that the embankment of the Rhine, even though used for loading and unloading ships with construction material, goods, and oil, remains entirely accessible to the public. All it takes is a sign saying that you can use the space at your own risk.

After this long hike, it’s time to stop for dinner. I love Il Giardino Urbano at Bahnhof St. Johann. It’s an outdoor restaurant placed right next to the train tracks. I recommend their pizza accompanied by Gleis 1, their self-brewed brand of beer. Or, if you’re looking for something indoor and closer to the centre, check out Acqua, a restaurant created inside a former water works facility with an enticing make-shift atmosphere. Their daily menu with complimentary red wine is tasty and affordable, a rare and precious treat in Basel. After dinner, make your way to Kaserne Basel and grab a drink in Parterre One, designed by young Basel architects Focketyn Del Rio Studio. There’s always something interesting going on at the Kaserne, from theatre to concerts to events in the courtyard. Jazz lovers will find their treats at Jazz Campus Basel or Bird’s Eye, which both feature excellent concerts. Before going to bed, I suggest a last visit to the Basler Münster: an exceptional place; the view from the Pfalz over the Rhine is sublime, and the cross-coat of the monastery with its double hortus conclusus is an architectural jewel not to be missed.


Andreas Ruby studied art history at the University of Cologne and spent time in Paris and New York as a researcher. He has worked as an editor and resident correspondent for the architecture journals Daidalos and Werk, Bauen + Wohnen. In 2001, he and Ilka Ruby founded Textbild, an agency for architectural communication, realising numerous international discursive architecture projects. He curated architecture exhibitions for museums, exhibition centres and galleries (the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt, the German Architecture Centre (DAZ), the gallery Aedes in Berlin and the House of Architecture (HDA) in Graz). He and Ilka founded the architectural publishing company RUBY PRESS in 2008, realising 30 book projects as editor and publisher. In addition, Andreas has taught architectural theory as a guest professor at institutions such as Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, the University of Technology in Graz and ENSAPM in Paris. He has been the director of S AM Swiss Architecture Museum since May 2016.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Andreas Ruby © Patricia Parinejad Andreas Ruby © Patricia Parinejad
  • S AM Swiss Architecture Museum Basel S AM Swiss Architecture Museum Basel