A city street in Basel, Switzerland. Photos provided by Troy Gulec.
A city street in Basel, Switzerland. Photos provided by Troy Gulec.
Three School of Architecture students recount their first day in Switzerland, and some of the architectural wonders-and fun-they experienced.
By Troy Gulec, Aaron Janci and Sveltozara Gizdashka
BASEL, Switzerland -Greetings from Switzerland! It’s us, Troy, Aaron, and Svetlozara and we arrived in Basel March 11, and boy oh boy do we have a story.
Let us set the scene: we arrive to Basel and there is something sweet in the air. We keep looking around to figure out exactly what magic is happening. After a couple minutes of wandering through the Basel Bahnof (old train station), we discover people meandering through the station in colorful, clown-like masks, with the sound of flutes coming from all directions, and the faint pounding of drums in the distance. The best way to describe the apparel of nearly everyone walking around is something similar to what you would see during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We immediately knew we unintentionally walked into Switzerland’s greatest tradition, Fasnacht (the Carnival of Basel).
After exiting the station, the architecture and urban streetscape stopped us in our tracks. The diversity between old vs. new architecture was awing; not only in architectural style, but also how the two forms so easily were able to marry together. The attention to detail, craftsmanship, and fundamental design of every building surrounding us was something we learn about constantly in school. Nearly every building is able to be used as some sort of study of how to effectively apply design ideologies while accounting for the surrounding context.
After meeting with our School of Architecture associate professors in practice, Jaime Correa and Carmen Guerrero , we began our Open City Seminar that would take us around the entire old, yet new, city of Basel.
We started the tour at the most medieval part of the city, laying directly on the Rhine. While crossing the City Bridge, we came upon the oldest street of the city that was built in the 12th century. As we made our way through the street corridors, Jaime would explain how the city grid was one of constant discovery and a plan that was intertwined with terminating vistas.
After a short walk, we arrived at one of the most significant courtyards in the city: MarketPlatz (Market Plaza in English). This plaza served as one of the original public destinations of Basel and is surrounded by the town hall and what would have at the time been the luxury apartment townhomes for affluent people while having a large marketplace in the interior courtyard.
Let us pause for a moment. We need to remind you all that while we are walking around, seeing all of these amazing sights, we are also now a part this city-wide festival where the streets would suddenly become a well-organized, moving musical celebration; almost as if there were hundreds of separate marching bands roaming the streets and each playing their own anthem.
Okay-back to the tour. After walking around the city for nearly four hours, we needed to cross the Rhine again for the afternoon’s city tour, and to have lunch. The bridge we would cross is of beautiful medieval design and is quite large in distance. To our luck, just as we began crossing the bridge, a huge snowstorm engulfed us and we were off to the races to the other side, becoming completely soaked in the process.
As we made our way away from the Old City Center, we began to see contemporary and modern architecture sprinkled in with the traditional Swiss-German style. As Carmen and Jaime would explain, these modern additions of architecture would begin after 1960 in accordance to a referendum stating that all additions to buildings must be "notably different in style.” As a result, the juxtaposition and harmony between old and new littered the streetscape; all while being different but amazingly coherent in overall impression.
P.S. – A shout out to Charlotte Von Moos and Florian Sauter of the University of Miami for their project ’House with a tree.’ It was humbling to see such an amazing design and to have the professors with us here in the School of Architecture trip to Basel.
At the day’s end, after breaking with the professors for the evening, we decided to eat at the first restaurant we saw, which just so happened to be along a major street where the festival was taking place. At this time, the numbers of those in costumes far outnumbered those of us without costumes….which honestly would come to make us incredibly easy targets. Something you all need to understand is while this festival celebrates fun and celebration, there is definitely a degree of mischief and trickery that occurs.
Okay, back to the story. So while we are sitting at our table, we thought we had been accustomed to the party-like nature that has been occurring around us. However, we start noticing that these marching "neighborhoods” began coming into restaurants and would interact with those already inside.
At various times, people would come up to our table, still in costume and with large masks on, and distribute various items to us. They first gave us candy, and by candy, we mean a LOT of candy. We thought ’ok, it’s all in good fun!’. However, after about five minutes, round two would begin where now they distributed a large amount of carrots, onions, and seldom gave oranges to a few lucky girls. In a little disbelief and confusion, we rationalized these experiences as ’well, this must just be how it is.’
Another five minutes pass, and round three is on. The same group comes back in the restaurant but there is a different vibe in the air. Then, the trickery begins. The party goers begin throwing confetti all over the restaurant and slowly begin picking certain people to shower. Once their eyes met ours, we knew we were done for.
A group of 3-4 of them slowly walked over and began filling every part of our clothing with confetti, getting it all in our clothing, hair, pants, everywhere! The attack lasted a couple minutes and suddenly they were gone as quick as they came. We sat at the table, looked at each other, and were speechless at what had just happened and all simultaneously began to laugh. As we ’tried’ to remove the confetti from everywhere , the door once more opens and we see the familiar clown faces come back in.
Terrified, we all prepared of another attack. At this point, though, their demeanor completely changed and they began handing out roses. It was like we were part of some type of tradition and the rose was their gift of saying thank you. All in all, what an experience, to say the least.
We think it fair to say, we have all been #Baseled.
P.P.S. – this is only day one.
Troy Gulec, Aaron Janci and Sveltozara Gizdashka are students in the University of Miami School of Architecture and College of Engineering. Gulec is a master’s student in the Urban Design and Real Estate Development programs, Janci is a third year engineering student, and Gizdashka is a third year architecture student.
Title IX & Gender Equity