Established in 1906, the Swiss National Bank is responsible for emitting currency and setting and maintaining Switzerland’s monetary policy. In addition to its head office in Bern, it maintains a series of offices in other major Swiss cities. The architects Rudolf Suter and Otto Burckhardt were tasked with designing the Basel branch, dubbed Laurenz-Bau, which opened in 1926 on St. Alban-Graben.
At the time, the national bank was also providing customer-facing services such as money exchange and safe deposit box rental. As such, an elegant wood-panelled service counter hall was to be found behind the austere stone facade. The hall had a central area for customers surrounded on three sides by a low marble-clad service counter, behind which were desks for staff. Lighting came from two rows of windows and a large round skylight.
As its role evolved and the need for service counters dwindled before disappearing entirely. In the 1980s, counters were relocated to the entrance lobby and the elegant counter hall transformed into. Due to the construction of an additional floor in a nearby room, the upper section of some of the original counter hall windows were replaced with wooden slats, as can be seen in the above images. This transformation was led by the same architecture practice as the initial construction, by then renamed Suter + Suter after Rudolf’s sons and partners Hans Rudolf and Peter Suter.
The national bank eventually replaced its Basel location with a smaller delegate office, and the building was gifted to the nearby Basel Museum of Fine Arts in 1999. The former counter hall was transformed to welcome the museum’s library, which it shares with the University of Basel’s Art History department, also located in the building. The collection not on display in the reading room is stored in movable stacks installed in the former bank vaults and inaccessible to the public.
The careful transformation was led by Annette Gigon & Mike Guyer of Gigon/Guyer and was completed in 2007. Their intervention included the reconstruction of the wood and glass doors leading to the counter hall, which had been destroyed as part of the 1980s transformation. The stone floor was heavily damaged and could not be salvaged; it was replaced by an acacia parquet floor to complement the original mahogany wall panels.
This post is part of a series on adaptive reuse in libraries. See the list of such projects I am maintaining or view other posts in this series.
- Umbau Kunstmuseum Basel und Bibliothek Laurenzbau. Annette Gigon / Mike Guyer Architekten.
- Pfaff, L. (2005). Geistige Konzentration: Umbau der ehemaligen Nationalbank in die Bibliothek des Kunstmuseums Basel. Tec21 : die Fachzeitschrift für Architektur, Ingenieurwesen und Umwelt, 131(7), pp. 8–11.
- Der Neubau der Schweiz. Nationalbank, Basel: Erbaut von Suter & Burckhardt, Architekten in Basel. (1929). Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 93/94(1), pp. 5–9.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!