Reflection on 'Homeland in Transit by the River Rhine' by exhibition collaborator Edward Wang
Edward Wang, exhibition collaborator and graphic designer of 'Homeland in Transit by the River Rhine' (2020) shares his thoughts and experiences in Basel, plus the architectural story of Florastrasse 45, his home during his time in the city and where the exhibition took place.
Last year, my home was Florastrasse 45 by the river Rhine. I was in Basel to work at the architect’s office Herzog & de Meuron, whose glass windows I could often see glowing in the night, if I stood at the corner of the house’s terrace.
Looking from the street, the house could almost be cute: a little beige mansion tucked between a large riverfront villa and a multi-unit block along the street. It is in the perfect location being not quite at the corner but close enough to enjoy a view of the river while shielded from the constant traffic along the river. The first time we visited the house, us potential roommates were stunned by its elegant bourgeoisie interior, so lovingly cared for by the owners Peter and Veronika. It was packed densely with the ephemera of forty years worth of occupation. Our surprise was especially pronounced because the thumbnail on the website advertisement had been a photo of a single twin bed.
The house has had many previous lives. Before us, Florastrasse 45 hosted many guests as a bed and breakfast, after being for many years a cherished family home. It was built in 1912 by local architects Widmer, Erlacher, Calini for a wealthy dyer Julius Braun and his wife Olga Nielsen. The beautiful wood panelling that runs along its rooms and hallways was a wedding present from the bride’s father for the newlywed couple. By the time the house was purchased by Veronika and Peter in 1981, it had fallen into dilapidation. Much of the heating and water system needed to be repaired and the highest corner of the house was bricked off. Luckily, as I am to find out by his frequent visits to the workshop on the ground floor, Peter is a skilled craftsman and much of the work on the house was completed by his own hand. What is palpable in the end product is the effort and dedication that was poured into the home across four decades. Not only do I see this in the paintings and little mementos that seem to live in every corner, but also in the care for each surface and architectural element.
In several ways, living there was a novel experience. It’s the first stone house that I’ve occupied for a significant time -- where I’m from, in Canada, houses are made of wooden sticks. I’ve never had a room with its own balcony. I loved living in this house; but it was a guarded affection, coloured by the fact that my time in Basel was limited. Florastrasse was so clearly somebody else’s home, the product of a long standing attention that I had no claim over and filled with its testament: durable wooden furniture, an interesting toilet, tapestries, stacks of gilded dishes.
During my last day in Basel, I took a minute between folding and packing to walk through the house for the last time, to commit it all to memory. Florastrasse 45 has an evolving history. What I admire most about Peter and Veronika’s work is that despite the house’s designation as a historical property, they have not let it become a museum. The house is a vibrant living entity -- allowed to change and absorb new fictions, new characters such as myself.