20,000 SF Municipal Water Purification Plant

Architecture, Interior Design

Muttenz, Switzerland

The City of Muttenz, Switzerland commissioned Oppenheim Architecture Europe to design the city’s new municipal water purification plant. The plant is a model of sustainability, extremely sensitive to its contrasting setting near the Rhine riverfront. Settled between a protected forest and nearby industrial parks, the project exhibits an educational factor to express the complex purification process in such a stressed environment.

The unique and important function of the drinking water purification plant is to create a new landmark for the town of Muttenz and the Basel area. The role of the architecture is to link and express the unique and state-of-the-art technology, placed in a natural ecosystem and emphasizing the importance of the purification process.

The building is located inside a lush green forest settled next to the river Rhine. This contrasting context – the natural and the industrial – is discussed in the architectural concept. The engineering driven arrangement of the inner life defines the form and the size of the building. Like a tight dress, the skin presses against it and represents the technical inner life to the outside. Pipelines, filters and apparatuses can be read through the façade in an abstract manner. The result is an expressive building, acting like a ‘objet trouvé’ in its natural context, reduced to its materiality and form.

The drinking water purification plant houses a state-of-the-art, 3-phased process, which ensures the highest quality of water for the citizen of Muttenz. A public area will invite the population to appreciate the complex process and celebrate water. The desired pedagogical effectiveness is achieved through a precise guidance through the different building areas and process phases. The open platform serves as a collection area and as a stage for presentations.

The alcove-like room is pure, open to the outside and sits on a pool of water, reflecting the daylight and collecting the rainwater pouring in from the roof. Depending on the time and season, it will be moist, cold and mystical. The water will be experienced with all senses.

The opposites of the context are playfully implemented in the façade material – soft in expression, crude and hard in texture. Shotcrete enforces the expressive façade and is used on all sides and the roof. The shotcrete is treated in a way to allow a porous texture. Rainwater flows from the roof over the façade, leaving a patina and moss stains, re-characterizing the building over the years and constantly changing the appearance of the plant.

The theme of water is also represented on the façade. Sprayed concrete is a very sustainable building material that is delivered dry to the construction site and is mixed with water only before the application – an important aspect, taking into account the fact that the construction site is in a drinking water protection zone. Maintenance work on the façade will be low. It is desired that the coarse-grained shotcrete is given a green patina that will come with time. Thus, the façade will merge with its context. The building is in constant dialogue with nature – built with nature, not on top of nature.

Principals in charge: Chad Oppenheim, Beat Huesler
Project Manager: Frederic Borruat
Project Contributors: Tom McKeogh, Aleksandra Melion

Photographs: Börje Müller, Rasem Kamal, Aaron Kohler

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