Curved terraces ingeniously surmount the dramatic disparity in height between the Rhine River and the Novartis campus, resulting in the creation of a remarkable riverbank promenade. This new pedestrian and cyclist promenade, spanning over 600 meters along the Rhine, replaces a formerly closed port area and is the culmination of nine years of meticulous planning and construction.
The design harmoniously follows the natural flow patterns of the river, seamlessly extending them into the walls that bridge the varying elevations. These walls elegantly embrace the undulating movements, while integrated stairs and ramps seamlessly intertwine with the structure, forging connections between different levels. Vertical bands of crushed limestone grace the riverbank section, imparting a warm and textile-like expression.
The promenade is divided into two primary path levels.
The lower level, adjacent to the water, encompasses the non-flood-safe berm path, characteristic of Basel. Here, convenient exits for swimmers and refreshing showers provide an enticing summer experience.
The flood-safe upper promenade path, spanning four meters in width, features environmentally conscious niches adorned with gravel, inviting visitors to linger amidst trees and benches. Employing drywalls, silted joint slab surfacing, and macadamized surfaces, the design facilitates ecological rainwater retention while creating habitats for a diverse range of plant and animal species. Consideration for the protected beaver population is evident through the incorporation of eco-platforms, offering them safe refuge. Deliberate features such as open joints, recesses, and overwintering options cater to the needs of the protected lizard species that inhabit the Rhine riverbank. Over time, the site undergoes a gradual colonization and patination as grasses, herbs, ferns, and mosses spontaneously flourish, transforming the walls into charming, small-scale hanging gardens.
In response to the challenges posed by global warming, cities and municipalities are facing mounting pressure to take action. Currently, the city of Basel is engaged in discussions regarding various options to enhance the adaptability of its open spaces to climate change. As part of an expert report, we conducted a thorough investigation into how the greening of the Rhine river promenade can be further intensified to foster a more temperate local climate.
To this end, we identified new locations along the promenade path where additional trees can be strategically planted, complementing the existing groups of trees. We specifically focused on selecting drought and heat-resistant species from dry forest habitats that are well-suited to the site. Simultaneously, we recognized an opportunity to expand the unpaved areas adjacent to the boardwalk, enriching them with topsoil and sowing wildflower seeds to develop vibrant meadows. It should be noted that due to the presence of an old, underground harbor wall, trees cannot be planted along the lower berm. However, we propose planting more willow trees on the groynes near the water’s edge, directly on the banks of the Rhine.
While we explored technical solutions to expedite the natural growth of moss and ferns within the wall joints, the associated costs proved to be prohibitive, leading us to abandon this approach. Instead, we aim to partially cover the walls with climbing plants, striking a balance that allows for their integration without obscuring the distinctive curved walls, which serve as iconic design elements of the Rhine river promenade.
Landscape Architecture: Uniola
Other designers involved in the design of the landscape: Staubli Kurath Partner AG, Zürich
Project Location: St. Johann, Basel
Year completed: 2016
Photo credits: Daniel Kessler, Aurel Martin