The Petersschule project by Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer is basically known through two frequently reproduced documents: a precise, quite dramatically receding perspective drawing and a presentation sheet comprising an axonometric rendering superimposed on a site plan, a graph of light curves, and, in the upper strip, a portion of an elevation and a cross section. Within the frame of this graphic sheet, the skewed position of the axonometry detaches the represented building from its background, isolating it as an object and suggesting unrest – perhaps a state of weightless floating, or at least a disregard for gravity. This graphic twist stresses the most obvious feature of the project: the building is paired with a startling system of projecting platforms.
The perspective drawing is no less evocative. Beyond depicting a building, it also represents a device, a towering corpus as the mainstay for the jutting decks and a grafted set of glazed corridors and stairways. The structure plainly dominates the site. Though its base leaves an important part of the ground unoccupied, it overshadows it entirely. Both documents relate to a competition launched in 1926 for the design of a girls’ primary school in Peterskirchplatz in the old part of Basel. Meyer and Wittwer considered the site to be overly small for the scope of the assignment. They calculated that the conventional development of a program encompassing eleven classrooms, an art room, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a kitchen and a canteen would leave only about 500 square metres of playground for the children.
They therefore proposed developing the school vertically, starting from a reduced base containing the sport facilities, stacking the classes in threes on the east side of the block, and providing the greater part of the recreational area above ground level on suspended platforms and roof terraces “where there is sunlight and fresh air”. When invited to publish their project in the Bauhaus-Zeitschrift (no. 2, 1927), Meyer and Wittwer subjected it to a thorough revision, retaining the main features but optimizing their intelligibility to the utmost. Therefore, they evicted the entire system of circulation from the inner volume and exposed it on the outside, revealing its nature as the spatial binding agent.
They condensed the rather complicated corpus into an elementary prismatic compound, articulating it as a main block with attached service units. Furthermore, they maximized the suspended platforms and freed the entire ground area from any enclosure, thereby retroceding it to city traffic. The whole reworking of the project obviously aimed at intensifying its Constructivist character and at having it meet the terms of the new architecture they had helped to propagate through their involvement with the ABC group and its journal.