New Swiss Architecture (Thames & Hudson), edited by Nathalie Herschdorfer, with texts by Maya Birke von Graevenitz and an introduction by Hubertus Adam, presents the most important recent Swiss buildings through architectural photographs. In this excerpt, Adam discusses the developments that nurtured Switzerland’s burgeoning architectural design.
Swiss architecture has received worldwide recognition for decades. Many architects of the current middle generation, architects who are today in their fifties and early sixties, were trained during the criticism of late modernity – though the postmodern tendency that arose in the neighboring countries had its origins in the canton of Ticino in the 1960s and arrived in Basel in the 1980s. In the 1990s the focus of architectural interest moved to the canton of Grisons, where rigorous competitions organized by the regional planning authorities did much to raise design standards in public buildings, and subsequently in private developments as well.
Since about 2000, the leadership in Swiss architecture has not been concentrated in any one particular canton, but rather in specific offices. The atelier for singer-songwriter Linard Bardill in Scharans or the Plantahof auditorium in Landquart – whose structure is inspired by Kazuo Shinohara’s constructions – are recent works by Valerio Olgiati in the Grisons, but could well be located in any other region. Similarly, the school building by Christian Kerez in Zurich-Leutschenbach cannot be said to be “typical of Zurich.” In past years, Swiss architecture has been going through a process of being stripped of meaning, but Kerez has managed counteract this tendency through projects that are as radical as they are immediately convincing, without proposing new models. The overall high quality achieved comes as much from architectural training as from Swiss tradition in the building crafts.
The local building tradition remains alive, and this translates into a generally high-quality level throughout the country; there are buildings of worth even in the remotest towns. A well-established and highly respected vocational training system safeguards hands-on knowledge, skills and norms of conduct, further reinforced by specialist schools for foremen and master builders.
Today the urban assumes greater importance in Switzerland, which for centuries was dominated by a rural culture. The past years have seen large-scale urban developments being launched in cities including Geneva, Zug, Basel and Zurich.
The major prestigious projects in Basel are the campuses for the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche. On the Novartis campus, Swiss architects have designed buildings alongside works of international stars. Herzog & de Meuron are just finishing Switzerland’s tallest building for Roche, which will be surrounded by an even taller high-rise development in future. For many years now Herzog & de Meuron have created tendencies, setting trends for the bulk of young Swiss architects to pursue. It has become fashionable to collaborate with artists in the design process, thematize ornament, link architecture to nature, and stack volumes on top of one another in a seemingly random way.
Switzerland’s young crop of architects – who are often trained in leading offices – experiment, copy, take references from an international field and translate them against a Swiss background, all in an ambitious quest for an independent position. In the process these architects are creating small but outstanding projects.
Excerpted from NEW SWISS ARCHITECTURE edited by Nathalie Herschdorfer, with texts by Maya Birke von Graevenitz and an introduction by Hubertus Adam
Copyright © 2015 Hubertus Adam. All right reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Thames & Hudson Inc, www.ThamesAndHudsonUSA.com