St Anthony’s church by Karl Moser Photo: Luke Setarns via Flickr
Just as in the 1900s the historic architectural styles were rejected in favour of a modern, fresh approach, Europe of the 1920s saw a widespread swing against the relatively short lived Art Nouveau, in favour of classical values. The style of this period took on many new guises from the most literal to the most abstract, yet unified by a clarity of geometry.
Inspired by Perret’s Notre Dame du Raincy, Karl Moser designed in 1926 one of the most significant buildings in the development of modern architecture in Switzerland. Conceived with the logic of steel, concrete and glass in mind, the building combines modern reinforced concrete structure with classical features including deep coffering vaulting.
The church is defined by a monumental simplicity on the outside, unashamedly exposing vast expanses of concrete which bears the marks of its timber formwork. This grey canvas is interrupted only by glazed rectangular perforations grouped in vertical elements which give the building an upward pull and lead the eye towards the plain bell tower, carved into a sharp, orthogonal geometry.
St Anthony’s church, porch Photo: Franie Frou via Flickr
The mass of the walls is emphasised by a deep, cavernous porch which leads the visitor into an unexpectedly bright interior, defined by the quality of light. In contrast with the modern exposed concrete structure, the internal arrangement of the church seems relatively conventional. The nave is characterised by a Gothic loftiness although spanned by a barrel vault of a classical quality. This features a coffered surface which improves the structural and acoustic performance of the building. The nave is flanked by side aisles covered with flat ceilings of a lower height.
St Anthony’s church, nave Photo: John Lord via Flickr
St Anthony’s church presents a slightly more emphatic division between nave and sanctuary compared to other modern churches of its time. The main altar is a little redrawn and perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the entire building is the solid, relatively plain wall behind (adorned only by a mosaic cross). This was intended to help the faithful direct their attention more intensely on the sacred mysteries yet it seems doubtful that the raw finish of the materials successfully contributes towards this end.
St Anthony’s church, altar Photo: Luke Setarns via Flickr
St Anthony’s church in Basel is an iconic piece of modern architecture, combining classical and modern features to create a vast space of solemn quality. Arguably however, here one is never too far from the signs of the secular world.