Openings: Herzog + de Meuron’s Volkshaus Basel Hotel

The most important art fair in the world was supposed to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020 – though as we now know, COVID had other plans. But Art Basel – the original one, in Switzerland – is now scheduled to be carried out in its physical form this month (September 24-26), and we couldn’t think of a better way to kick off an autumn that will at last find us traveling back to Europe again.

And where there are art fairs, there are art industry types in need of artistic places to stay. In downtown Basel, Der Teufolhof has been the mainstay for as long as we can remember. But earlier this year the Art House opened as a fascinating new hotel/gallery hybrid. And more recently, the debut of the strikingly designed new Volkshaus Basel has had the cultural chattering classes all abuzz.

The excitement around the latter is for good reason, as it is the first dedicated hotel project by exalted Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, whose notable works include San Francisco’s De Young Museum, the Tate Modern in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It’s located in the building from which it takes its name, dating in some form all the way back to the 14th Century (it was the unromantically named Castle Balliwick); but the current structure was designed by architect Henri Baur in 1925, and was eventually converted to workaday offices and a concert hall. So H&dM have spent years trying to rediscover the soul hiding under all the unremarkableness that had been imposed upon it.

They decisively succeeded, as we would have surely expected, and now the Volkshaus is a 45 room boutique hotel that makes no shame of its affection for 1920s modernism, most especially in the updated version of the original Volkshaus chair, which can be found throughout the property. Upstairs, the rooms have a spare sort of Corbusian feel, yet the black, grey and army-ish green color schemes give them an inviting warmth. Wall coverings are imbued with what are almost ghostly reproductions of 17th Century etchings. The stark, open plan lobby area has something of the vibe of a modern museum shop.

The namesake bar and brasserie actually opened back in 2012, with design also by H&dM, and boast modernist furnishings, deep green leather banquettes, and a plethora of hanging “bulb” lamps, all strikingly evocative of the era – the 1920s – that it draws inspiration from. A dramatically curved row of picture windows looks out onto a verdant courtyard, and floods the room with light. The smartly-curated but unfussy menu features classics like beef tartare, crevettes sauvage, escalope viennoise, and lobster frites, all perfectly paired with a Volkshaus Aged Negroni.

This is obviously more than just a hotel. Rather, a stay here offers immersion in a very certain sort of aesthetic ideology, a sense that you’re living in design, at least for a few days. So, if you’re the sort who is inclined to just strike up casual conversations about architecture, this is definitely the place to do it.

N.B. Volkshaus Basel is a part of the venerable Tablet Hotels group, and members booking through the site/app enjoy an upgrade to the next room category (based upon availability at check-in), guaranteed 1pm late check-out, welcome treat in the room on arrival, and 20 CHF hotel credit per room, per day.

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