Swimming with Libeskind

Westside, Libeskind's shopping mall outside of Berne, SwitzerlandFor enthusiasts of the Jewish Museum, excursions to other Libeskind buildings are imperative. Many are thematically related to the JMB, such as the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus in Osnabrück or the Jewish Museum in San Francisco. But equally worthwhile are the buildings designed for entirely other purposes, such as Westside, a suburban shopping mall completed in 2008 over a highway outside of Berne, Switzerland.

Westside's inscriptionThe mall – despite, well, being a mall – shares many features with the Jewish Museum, which was Libeskind’s first building project. The well-trained, or perhaps overly-trained, eye may involuntarily pick up on architectural testimonies to German-Jewish history.

Like the Jewish Museum, Westside is a jarring metal structure, with slanted walls and slit windows. But in the surrounding hills, dotted mostly by cows, it makes the more flamboyant statement of being a corps étranger, an utterly foreign object.

The main entrance, like our subterranean rite de passage through the Old Building, is also from below: here, a car-park. Westside's food courtInside the building, Libeskind’s signature elements greet the eye: slanted columns, ceilings, and showcase windows. Admittedly, the Jewish Museum’s acute angles translate smoothly to this shopping paradise, where losing your sense of orientation among worldly goods is exactly what the stores want to happen.

The mall’s greatest attraction is a ‘waterworld’ amusement park called Bernaqua. With its twelve feature pools and its five mile-long slides, it is an exhibition of avantgarde water technology. Entrance to BernaquaClearly, the planners visited the Jewish Museum and drew on it extensively, both aesthetically and thematically, so if you’re too attentive, a tour through the twelve basins can make you feel as if you’re swimming through our permanent exhibition. In fact, in this doppelgänger world, Widerstand (opposition) could bring to mind Jewish resistance instead of the current of an artificial river. A salt-water basin in a dark tower is reserved for silent contemplation and unmistakeably reminiscent of our voids. That being the case, visitors may have the urge to turn off the soft purple disco-lighting beneath the water. Bernaqua with its red slidesThe heated outdoor facilities recreate the feeling of summer in the middle of winter, making you smile – or feel insulted – if you’ve been to the Jewish Museum’s Garden of Exile, which is an architectural tribute to the experience of immigration by means of a monument of a city turned on its head. One of Bernaqua’s slides promises an experience of pure emotion, and another, one of complete disorientation. It is a black tunnel with disjunctive lightning effects and a free-falling finale. For me, both kept their promise, but not in the way they intended!

Naomi Lubrich, Media