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Swiss Water Purification Plant Project Redefines Creative Infrastructure Design

Posted by
on August 29, 2019 at 01:17 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

Infrastructure design has always been considered and treated as one of the ‘less creative, more functional’ (as though the two were mutually exclusive!) branches of the architectural profession. Designing infrastructure is perceived as having less to do with any creative purpose and more to do with preparing a technically fault-free working layout of the machinery involved and the necessary but predetermined structure to contain it. Especially in India, be they roads, bridges, canals, water-supply and sanitation systems, even education and health apparatus – the moment they gain the ‘infrastructure’ tag, they are stripped to the basics, automatically robbed of the right to be conceived creatively or even invested with any effort in that direction. Though recently, attitudes have evolved and brought into effect some visible difference as well, there’s a lot to learn. Oppenheim Architecture’s handling of the Muttenz Water Treatment Plant design proves to be an inspiration in exploring the thrilling creative possibilities that can be explored in a ‘brass-tacks’ infrastructure project.

Having examined the role that a creative approach can play in the design of infrastructure in previous articles (Port Miami Tunnel, Amager Resource Centre), we venture further to examine the premise in the Muttenz Water Purification Plant.

Firstly, the very concern for aspects beyond the functionality of this piece of infrastructure stems from its location – the Muttenz water purification plant is located on 650 acres of land on the Rhine riverfront in the Basel district, punctuating the transition between protected forest area and industrial zones. For any sustenance of ecological ethics, the setup had to take cognisance of and respond sensitively to its precious surroundings.

© Courtesy of internet resources

Oppenheim Architecture, with an office in Basel itself, would naturally be expected to take cognisance of the area’s natural endowment in the design. The firm, having won 45 AIA awards and many more other recognitions since its ‘90s inception, is known for an architecture that is as aesthetic as it is functional, embodying harmony and sensitivity between man and nature. Principal Chad Oppenheim can be quoted as saying that architecture can be silent yet excited and powerful at the same time. He says, ‘we like to create buildings that disappear into the landscape...’

© Courtesy of internet resources

However, the brilliance of the water purification plant’s design doesn’t lie just in its display of sensitivity to its surrounding environment, but in the simultaneous subtlety and flourish with which it is brought into effect. So, the plant is wrapped in an exterior envelope of concrete spray mixed with clay in a form and colour that mimics a natural monolithic formation. This allows the building to blend in with its natural setting and also for nature to take over and grow on to the building in the long run, creating façade that changes endlessly through seasons and time.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

Having thus created an attractive iconic landmark which draws the local community towards it, Oppenheim has proceeded to create educational galleries inside its supremely aesthetic interiors through large glass panels that allow a peep into the plant’s functioning. The sand-dune like folds of the exterior envelope would attract and draw visitors inside to see, appreciate, wonder, learn, explore or simply linger and soak in the goodness of nature. The Muttenz Water Purification plant isn’t just a piece of useful infrastructure: it’s an educational apparatus, a social tool, an attractive natural site and a local icon all rolled in one!

© Courtesy of internet resources

The Peel (images 10, 11)

How well does this project exemplify the fact that technology cannot be left soul-less... that when you build, you are touching a part of a holistic consciousness, not just a physical entity!

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

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