May 2024

ETH Studio Basel Open AccessChristian Schmid, Milica Topalović

The website ETH Studio Basel Open Access presents a selection of publications by the ETH Studio Basel as open access. ETH Studio Basel, Contemporary City Institute, was founded in 1999 as an institute of urban research at the ETH Zürich Department of Architecture by architects Roger Diener, Jacques Herzog, Marcel Meili, Pierre de Meuron and by urban sociologist and geographer Christian Schmid. Operating over two decades until 2018, the ETH Studio Basel created groundbreaking research on urbanisation and territory, tightly linked to the pedagogy of the design research studios.

Switzerland: An Urban Portrait (2006) was ETH Studio Basel’s first major project, motivated by rapid urban change. Echoing Henri Lefebvre’s thesis of the complete urbanisation of society, the project engaged in a comprehensive investigation of the territory of the entire country, tracing urbanisation processes that had shaped it and identifying potentials emerging in the new conditions. With its conceptualisation of Switzerland beyond the urban-rural divide, the project and the book revolutionised the public discourse and institutional approaches to spatial planning. It also initiated a novel approach to research in architecture, based on specific methodologies including ethnographic fieldwork methods and cartographic exploration and analysis. It has been foundational to the development of a territorial approach to urbanisation. Several additional territorial studies on Switzerland elaborated over the years culminated with a call for designing the “unbuilt” in achtung: die Landschaft (2016).

ETH Studio Basel applied this territorial approach developed on the concrete example of the urbanisation of Switzerland, also to other urbanising territories. Starting with analyses of Naples and the Canary Islands, the notion of specificity emerged as a crucial concept: each territory is distinguished by certain characteristics, which underpin the production and reproduction of its own specificity. In the following years, Studio Basel analysed very different cities, or urban territories, from Hong Kong and Casablanca to Nairobi and Belgrade, resulting in publications such as The Inevitable Specificity of Cities (2014) and Belgrade. Formal / Informal: A Research on Urban Transformation (2012). A comparative analysis of extended urbanisation in different world regions was published in the book Territory: On the Development of Landscape and City (2016).