DIENER AND DIENER

Architecture firm, Switzerland
The practice of Diener and Diener was formed as it exists now in 1975, when the son,
Roger Diener (1950–), joined his father, Marcus Diener, in the elder’s 30-year-old
practice in Basel, Switzerland. From 1978 until 1984, the younger Diener collaborated
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primarily with Wolfgang Schett and Dieter Righetti, who already worked in Marcus’s
practice. Other key members of the Diener and Diener design team included Jens Erb and
Andreas Ruedi; both joined the firm in 1983 and have remained perhaps the most
influential members of the group. Roger Diener has taught at the ETH (Eidenössiche
Technische Hochschule Zurich) Lausanne and at Harvard University’s Graduate School
of Design.
Diener and Diener are best known for their large residential complexes and housing
plans, which are most recognizable by their simple features and severe facades. The firm
has also won a number of town-planning commissions. Their designs are sophisticated
and functionalist, adhering to the most positive traits of the modern philosophy while
using the most unpretentious methods and materials possible.
When Diener and Diener first began designing large-scale apartment complexes in the
late 1970s, postmodernism was at its height in Europe. The team wisely steered clear of
these stylistic leanings and made their own mark with simplicity as their goal. The team’s
modern vocabulary, attention to function, and commitment to a variety of materials and
construction methods set the firm apart. Their trademark materials have remained stone
and colored concrete. The firm interprets the culture and history of Basel through many
of their buildings, either via the facade and its conscious relationship to the urban design
and street or in their pedestrian choices of materials. Diener and Diener employ design
methods such as gridded mullions and lourves, and that often reappear throughout a range
of different types of buildings, from office buildings to apartments.
The Hammerstrasse Apartment Complex (1981) in Basel exemplifies the firm’s design
preferences. Diener and Diener’s challenge was to sensitively link the 19th-century urban
plan to the new housing complex. The firm’s design is an analogous display of a
traditional peripheral apartment block of the late 19th century, where residences face the
street, and communal space and walkways abound behind a row of studios. Apartments
open up to the rear courtyard through large windows. Smaller apartments of different
designs are intended for singles and the elderly, and larger units are intended for small
families or communal living situations. Floor plans are of the utmost importance. The
appeal to external variety is answered in the many different facings, ranging from
corrugated aluminum to green glass and painted concrete. In many of the firm’s
residential buildings, windows will span nearly the entire wall to allow for light and a
sense of space without encroaching on the proportions of the room.
Because most of their commissions are communal in nature—offices or housing
estates—Diener and Diener developed early on a sensitivity to the role of the individual
within the society. Naturally, they questioned the differences between the individual and
the collective and how to express this in built form. They developed interrelationships
between the city center and residential neighborhoods, neighborhood streets and
courtyards of houses, and this space and the apartment with the apartment’s relationship
to everything around it. Within this scheme, it is the spaces where all these relationships
intersect that define Diener and Diener’s approach to space. Each project is unique, even
when details are repeated from previous commissions, and reflects the urban environment
around it. The firm has been key to the unique development of buildings in Switzerland.
This is particularly true in the Basel area, where the government obliges architects to
consider the urban pattern, the region’s culture, and its inhabitants when planning a minor
housing estate or a full city plan. A discipline to use minimal means and available
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materials and a consideration of the purpose of the task at hand are paramount. Diener
and Diener feel a responsibility to both the inhabitant and the existing environment and
display not only a fresh approach to functionalism but also an ethical humanism not seen
in contemporary architecture.
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