Laboratoire Bâle, laba, is an architecture and urban design studio of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), based in Basel. laba is devoted to the investigation of spatial design at the interface between urban processes and architectural objects. It is laba’s conviction that design is both an intellectual and artistic product that takes place on all scales of the urban, and therefore, laba’s projects span from planning to detailing. laba is chaired by Professor Harry Gugger and is located in Basel since August 2011.



Architecture colonizes space for human appropriation: it defines a boundary of civilized domination set against a background of outer yonder, wilderness, chaos, i.e., nature (the excluded left-over of the architectural inside). The classical city, one could argue, did the same thing on a communal scale, with the city wall drawing the limit between the social polis and the bucolic arcadia: the cultural object framed out from the backdrop of widespread open land. The industrial (modern) city blurred and irreparably damaged this once stable opposition. Culture merged with Nature in infinite, site-specific combinations, giving rise to a succession of mutating transgenic landscapes, which we now generally refer to as the urban. Engulfed by junkspace, city-as-object and rural-as-background no longer exist—the territory lost friction, expanded and changed in more or less awkward ways, to a point where the urban itself became a pervasive (mostly chaotic) background—one might say, a kind of nature. laba‘s theme urban-nature is thus a paradox that supersedes dichotomy and that, by doing so, highlights the ambiguous coexistence of these two conditions—as nature becomes increasingly urbanized, so does the urban become gradually more natural, to the point where concepts once seen as polarities can now begin to be seen as metonyms.

laba orientation (PDF)


laba’s teaching method aims to expand the field of architecture’s ability to respond to the extreme complexity and artificiality of today’s postmodern urban territories. Seen as an environmental object, architecture expands its role to embrace not only the design of autonomous objects, but also to give form to its relevant environmental surroundings. Objects and systems, buildings and landscapes, sculptures and junkspaces, can thus be integrated within the larger ecology of spatial creation. This would result in a kind of contextualism that is not about familiarity but rather about revealing unconscious qualities of the site and rendering them visible; an ecological phenomenology that welcomes the strange and disrupts the figure-ground relationship (the hierarchy between positive figure and passive ground); an architecture that weaves the territory at different scales and attunes to climate, geological strata, landscape systems, and other non-human worlds. Architecture as environmental object is an exercise on the principle of contextualism (Lt. contexere, from com- “together” + textere “to weave”), where architecture is seen as a weaving of connections and revelations, a creator of uncanny fabrics or textures.

laba method (PDF)