Christ & Gantenbein's project in Liestal is very big.
Even so, it elegantly wants to make you ignore this fact. The building is almost twice as big (and twice as tall) as one would guess, leaving the train at Liestal station. It is impossible to miss; a dense, dark volume hovering over the asphalt next to the station on the right, just off the axis to the city centre.
The building is just off center, in an area close enough to what one can consider the old city center, to be intimidating, confronting old and new ideas of what a city can be. Still, it stands at a safe distance from what's already there to set a new idea of urbanity. An opportunity — not unlike any other contemporary nod of public transport — is densified as an urban paradigm in the diffuse European fabric.
The volume is inserted in a masterplan, although in reality prefigures it. As a messenger, it announces an urbanity to come; that of the masterplan made by the same office. In all its explicitness, the building displays an idea of a city made of palazzi with narrow alleys. It presents a density not achieved through point like exercises in self-expressions and height but rather through a relentless urbanization or maximization of what is available. But not yet; so far the building communicates what is to come.
Even if the very idea of a palazzo is the core of its urban form, still the palazzo proper doesn't quite fit: the existing site is too small. The streets and the topography the building faces are not used to determine the project's brute shape. Rather, they are understood as accidents in a paradigm that does not really care. In time things will change. For now, their impact is simply visualized.
As a proper expression of its urban design (and a proper palazzo), the façade is used as its principal mode of operation. The building is not rectangular, but somehow the repetitive façades manage to hide this. The façade is build up from pitch-dark prefabricated window panels in relief. They create simple but gigantic window frames. The façade thus makes the building, giving it a consistent, overall order. Where the ground is touched, adjustments are made. Here the base form is pushed in and the 'proper' façade is omitted. If the prefabricated façade exudes a certain sense of solidity, acting as a calming factor, those accidents distract you of the enormous size of the building. As pseudo protagonist, they act as a mediator between the sheer mass of the building and the street.
The building is gigantic. Half of its surface is underground, and one enters its middle: offices above, parking below, commerce in the middle. Here on display, is the ultimate consequence of building today: the building is a pragmatic working machine, a commercial building, a maximization of surface, hidden in a self declared alpha and omega of classical morphology. Christ and Gantenbein know and understand this, and show the consequences in all their ambiguity. It is exactly in this understanding that the building excels. The BLKB bank is not an over ambitious luxury project, but a pragmatic cask-like building, with only a couple of well designed things: the windows and the façade are the protagonists. There is a beautiful lobby, a particular geometrical plan and a clever placement of the structure that allows the façade to bend back, hence allowing this strange and particular way of touching the ground.
On each of the sides, the particular landing resolves urban issues. Close to the station it adds a stair to connect with the lower part of the city. In the back — its most sculptural side —, it allows the existing road to remain where it always was. In the front, it organizes a parapet for the bus stop, sheltering from the rain, while silently offering its main façade to shops and services. Urbanism happens through this volume, as if it was the result of a conjecture. In the intervals where the building does not fit, it consciously manipulates and presents the demands and desires of the future Liestal urbanite: as a self-fulfilling prophecy.