Steel and fog, Geneva

chair 2, Route de Chene wall, June 2016, by enclos*ure
While we were in Geneva last week, I was able to go see “Floor Works,” a garden designed by Agence TER* for the developers Sociéte Privée de Gérance (SPG). Built in 2005, it surrounds an office building† but is open to the public.

The garden was one of two finalists for the European Garden Award in 2013 — in the category of “Innovative Contemporary Concept or Design of a Park or Garden.” (The winner that year was Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.)

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The name “Floor Works” refers to the garden’s parallel lines of red COR-TEN steel and grey slate paving, alternating with long narrow planting beds. Some of the steel lines appear to rise up and fold into chairs and benches. On the building’s west side, the paving pattern also goes up and over the top of the parking garage entrance. About 40 tall bent steel posts are interspersed throughout the area as well. 

“The word ‘work’ simultaneously expresses the work (le travail) and [art]work (l’oeuvre); ‘floor,’ the ground,” explains Agence TER. “Floor Works is thus the work produced by working the ground, that is to say, by the action of handling or gardening mineral or living materials.”

In contrast to the earthy qualities of the garden’s “floor,” the office building is mostly glass, often reflecting as an aqua-blue color — beautiful in combination with the rust-red steel.

Nearby buildings are mostly late 19th and early 20th century, of six to eight stories high.

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The planting style is naturalistic. It reminded me more than anything else of the often beautiful “Third Landscape” waste areas that one sees along train tracks in Europe. I liked the way the narrow beds allow all the plants to be backlit.  But I wished for a few taller (shoulder-high) grasses in the open center. However, the tree-like upright steel posts do provide some sense of depth and shelter without casting shade on the sun-loving plants.  (There are actual trees along the west and south sides.)

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For me, the real magic came to the garden every few minutes when fog would rise from a mechanism in the top of the garage entrance and envelop the main walkway and building entrance — so densely that for a few seconds I couldn’t see anything else.  Then it would start to sink and spread across the rest of the garden.

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Finally, along the front of the property, on Route de Chêne, there is an approximately 4′ high wall separating the building from the sidewalk. It is thickly planted with a large variety of healthy perennials.  I thought it was superb.

You can see more photos, by Agence TER, here, including overhead views.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then any thumbnail in the gallery to scroll through larger versions of all my photos above (plus several more).

*They were recently chosen to redesign Los Angeles’s Pershing Square.

†It is located about a half mile east of the old city center, at Route de Chêne 30. Take the #12 tram from the city center, Amandolier stop.

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By the numbers, Geneva

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We were traveling all last week in Switzerland and France, stopping for three days in Geneva.

Walking back and forth from our hotel to the city’s old town, I several times passed the floral clock (L’horloge fleurie) located near the spot where the Rhône River leaves Lake Léman. It was built in 1955 to honor Geneva’s watchmaking industry, and its design, formed by approximately 6,500 plants, changes seasonally. With a diameter of 5 meters (16.4′), the clock was said to be the largest in the world until 2005 — when it was surpassed by a 15-meter version in Tehran, Iran.*

It’s not a style of garden that I particularly like, but as I examined it, I had to admire the careful layout and clipping required to make it possible. (Click on any image above to scroll through enlarged versions.)

Floral sundials have been around since at least the 16th century, but the first-known floral display with mechanical clock hands was created in 1892 in the Trocadéro gardens in Paris. A second was constructed at Water Works Park in Detroit in 1893. By the early 20th century, examples could be found across the U.S., Great Britain, and Europe.

A number of these clocks were abandoned during WWI, but in the 1920s and 1930s, as motoring tourism developed, towns began to build them again as attractions.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new.  .  .  .
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!

— Andrew Marvell, from “The Garden

*Geneva’s second hand is still the longest, at 2.5 m.

The mission garden, Basel

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

During our Thanksgiving visit to Basel, Switzerland, we stayed at Hotel Bildungzentrum 21 or Hotel Educational Center 21.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Although a large garden was mentioned on TripAdvisor when I was booking, I had guessed that this would mean — particularly in late November — neat gravel paths, some dormant shrubs and lawn, and beds of chilly purple pansies on a 8″ planting grid.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

That the “private park” would actually encompass meadows, large plots for flowers, vegetables, and herbs, rows of berry bushes, and an orchard was a wonderful surprise.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

The hotel’s rooms are in one part of a building constructed in the 1860s as housing for the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society, now called Mission 21. (Hermann Hesse lived here for six years as a child.) The garden was once a place for teaching outgoing missionaries how to grow their own food.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Today, it is cared for by Unigärten Basel — a collective of University student gardeners — in collaboration with Urban Agriculture Basel and ProSpecieRara.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Unigärten’s goal for the Mission 21 garden is to show the “greatest possible diversity of plants” within a permaculture system. They believe the garden, open to hotel guests and the surrounding neighborhood, can inspire both experienced and novice gardeners.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

I loved this practical and romantic garden.  I spent the beginning and end of every day we were there taking dozens and dozens of pictures — which is why it has taken me so long to post this. (There’s also a good photo of the garden in summertime here.)

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

(At the bottom of this post, you can click on ‘Continue reading’ and then on any thumbnail in gallery, and you can scroll through larger versions of all these photos, plus several more.)


The back garden

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In the back garden, seven rectangular and square sections are outlined in sheared boxwood.

Wild plants (Wildpflanzen) — particularly those that thrive in dry and waste or disturbed ground (Ruderalflächen) — take their place alongside the urban agriculture. They have been left to spread largely undisturbed along the pathways and under shrubs and fruit trees.  And in the two meadows, there are forty species, “providing joy to many insects,” according to a sign posted outside the restaurant.

The front garden

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The front garden, across from the hotel entrance,  does contain curving gravel paths and lawn, but also a number of large, old trees underplanted in a very rough and natural way with native plants from the region — mostly those with the downy oak forest as their native habitat.

You can also see that this front area has been designed to accommodate the hotel’s and the Mission’s entertaining needs and is surely at its best in the warmer months, full of tables and chairs, lights, and people.

Basel travel tips

Hotel Bildungszentrum 21 is two blocks from the historic city center. The rooms are simple, but comfortable.  Their rates are very reasonable.

Meals are the biggest expense for a tourist in Basel. Main dishes in all the guidebooks’ lists of budget restaurants are $20-$45.  A Whopper meal at the local Burger King is around $15, although sandwiches from bakeries, eaten standing up, can be had for $6 – $10.

I can recommend Zum Isaak and the bistro of the Museum der Kulturen (nice for lunch), both on Münsterplatz; Manger & Boire at Barfüsserplatz; and ONO deli cafe bar at Spalenvorstadt and Kornhausgasse (their generous Zmorge breakfasts are good for lunch too).

All public city transportation is free for anyone staying in a Basel hotel. Just ask for a pass when checking in.
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A study in steps: Schürhof, Basel

12 Museum of Culture, Basel, 2015, enclos*ure

After I took a number of photos of the hanging plant columns of the Basel Museum of Culture (during our visit at Thanksgiving), I turned my attention to the courtyard around them — the Schürhof — the floor of which is largely a set of low, wide steps descending to the museum lobby and gift shop.

The entrance to the courtyard and museum on Munsterplatz.

The street entrance to the courtyard and thus to the museum is through a simple archway on the Münsterplatz.

Before the museum was renovated in 2011 by Herzog & de Meuron, the Schürhof* was not open to the public.  The museum shared a door with the Museum of Natural Sciences around the corner.

Looking at a “before” photo (here, fourth image), the old courtyard appears to have been used at least partly as a parking lot.

27 Museum of Culture, Basel, 2015, enclos*ure
Looking out on the courtyard from the lobby.

The renovation excavated it to open up a new museum entrance in the base of the existing 1917 neoclassical building.

The other buildings that enclose the Schürhof are medieval.

28 Museum of Culture, Basel, 2015, enclos*ure

Above and below are three views from upper windows inside the museum.

29 Museum of Culture, Basel, 2015, enclos*ure
The entrance to the courtyard is in the upper left corner.

30 Museum of Culture, Basel, 2015, enclos*ure
You can see a plan of the courtyard here (fifth image).

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Hanging gardens, Basel

Street entrance, Basel Museum of Culture, 2015, enclos*ure

In Basel, Switzerland, the day after Thanksgiving, we went looking for lunch and ended up at the very pretty bistro of the Museum of Culture — located on the same square as the Münster.

The museum posters decorating the café were so interesting that we decided to go next door (above, left side) and take a look.

Given the quiet, very traditional appearance of the street entrance, we were completely surprised by what we found on the other side of the archway.

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In an enclosed courtyard, seven, four-story tall columns of plants hang from the deep eave of an irregularly folded roof of glistening ceramic tiles.

The museum* is 166 years old and houses a current collection of over 300,000 ethnographic artifacts from around the world. The hanging columns were installed in 2011, part of an extensive renovation of the building by Herzog & de Meuron.

To scroll through larger versions of the photos (and several more), click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

Next: more about the Schürhof, the sloping courtyard below the columns.

*Admission to the Museum der Kulturen is about $16, but the last hour of the day (4:00 – 5:00 p.m.) is free.  This is plenty of time to see the large room of Medieval and Renaissance art displayed there until the prestigious Kunstmuseum Basel, currently being renovated, reopens in 2016.  (You can also see some of its late 19th century and early modernist art at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst or Contemporary Art until February 21, 2016.  The Gegenwartskunst also has a small exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Cy Twombly until March 13.  Admission is free.)

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