Building for the world
Swiss architecture has been a popular export since the Baroque era. Four ingredients for its success.
Swiss architecture has been a popular export since the Baroque era.
The small village of Fläsch is tucked in between mountains and vineyards in the canton of Graubünden. Again and again, I have shown visitors what our village has to offer when it comes to “Baukultur,” the combination of architecture, engineering, planning, design and environment. Interest in the village has risen sharply since 2010, when Fläsch received the Swiss Heritage Society’s Wakker Prize for outstanding local planning, essentially the Swiss Oscar for Baukultur. Word has gotten out that Fläsch is well worth a visit. In addition to curious visitors from the Swiss lowlands, I have led tours of the village for a number of groups from abroad, whether from Italy, Germany and Austria, or even China and Japan. Occasionally, cheerful groups come to visit on educational trips, mostly architects and planners.
And this is the first ingredient in why Swiss architecture has gained renown around the world: We build well, and we like to talk about it. People from other countries come to Switzerland to learn from us, whether as part of their initial training or in continuing education courses offered at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne or at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio. These institutions enjoy a good reputation around the world, and they are entrusted with the holy grail that is Swiss architecture – one-third of those drinking from this vessel come from other countries around the world, and they return home inspired by Swiss ideas.
Unlike the large, urban creations in cities like Berlin, London and Paris – which we are told we should emulate more – we have a lot to offer on a smaller scale. Since the days of Ticino native Francesco Borromini, a 17th century architect who built a dozen churches in Rome, this ability has taken form in structures built in other countries. And it continues to this day with firms like Mario Botta, Herzog & de Meuron and Gigon/guyer.
The second ingredient for the success of Swiss architects abroad is their knack for design – their ability to give a building both shape and personality. Haldenstein-based architect Peter Zumthor understands this aspect masterfully. We can experience this in his Kolumba Museum in Cologne, which houses the treasures of the Catholic Church. Zumthor built the museum on the ruins of a church that was bombed during World War II, simultaneously reflecting the history of the location while also providing a symbol for the faithful with its sweeping dignity. Above all, it is a museum where the highest level of art can