Karamuk Kuo delivers an archaeological workplace that mixes scientists and artifact storage

New Typologies

For an emerging studio, a competition win can be just the catalyst you need to put yourself on the map. For Karamuk Kuo, cofounded by Jeannette Kuo and Ünal Karamuk, a quick succession of not one but three project wins propelled them into the limelight. The most recent of these is the new Archaeological Center Augusta Raurica, just outside of Basel, Switzerland. Its attention to detail and elegant massing almost make you forget it’s about a 100,000-square-foot facility that houses 1.3 million artifacts from one of the most important Roman archeological sites in the world.

In the research library, color comes from its books and furniture (Maxime Delvaux)

“We were drawn to this competition because it was full of quirks: There were interesting constraints, like the building had to sit lightly atop the ground so as to not disturb the ancient ruins below. There were also no 3D representations or renderings allowed,” Kuo told AN Interior. “That, and it’s an internationally celebrated site of scholarship, with over 500 years of excavation progress at its feet.”

The white and glass aesthetic makes the interior feel airy and light (Maxime Delvaux)

Glass partitions offer visual connection between advanced laboratory spaces, putting scientific work on display (Maxime Delvaux)

The competition brief asked designers to unite what was previously a loose, ad hoc community of professionals working along a long spectrum of expertise, from gardeners and facilities maintenance workers to scientists and marketing coordinators. How might a piece of architecture organize such a diverse professional community with no prior feeling of connection or identity?

The sparse backdrop may seem cold, but the minimal design emphasizes how its the people who breathe life into the space (Maxime Delvaux)

Kuo and Karamuk began conceptualizing the Augusta Raurica workplace by studying its infrastructural origins. Diagrams that began as scattered striations depicting columns and central services went through formal iteration: After layering on more elements, the designers saw a system emerge for crafting staggered yet thoughtful nodes for the entire community.

Portals that look into the two-story section of the facility connect and welcome the previously disconnected departments (Maxime Delvaux)

The studio inserts clerestory windows, bringing warmth and natural light to the overhead florescence (Maxime Delvaux)

The few double-height spaces that interrupt the two-story section of the building are striking departures; these feel like miniature internal courtyards that represent places where interdisciplinary collaboration happens.

At times, double-height spaces interrupt the two-story section of the building, creating intriguing deviations (Maxime Delvaux)

Below a roofline speckled with skylights reminiscent of industrial rooflines, laboratories came into focus. Then dining areas with round tables for sharing meals and communal kitchens, complete with custom dusty blue cabinetry designed by the studio.

The studio designed custom dusty blue cabinetry for the communal and dining spaces (Maxime Delvaux)

The meticulously organized archival storage space is passively controlled for both temperature and humidity (Maxime Delvaux)

“The idea behind the white-and-glass palette of the space is that the people, and their work, add the color,” Kuo offered. While a laboratory is stereotypically gleaming white, like a clean slate or blank canvas, the life emerges in the spines of the books lining library shelves or the samples out on the table, readied for study.

The ridged roofline, alongside linear tubes of light, emphasize neatness and organization, major motifs in both the facility and their storage system (Maxime Delvaux)

The building is light in both material and aesthetic impact. Glass partitions define workspaces and gathering nooks without isolating employees, but the interior remains comfortable with sensor-based natural ventilation systems. Humidity control in the collections depot is achieved by using clay plaster on the walls in specially designed shelving. Complete with solar panels on the roof, all of this energy innovation translates into an energy surplus without compromising on design. Karamuk Kuo’s attention to every detail of this novel architectural typology is a blueprint for careful and considerate work.