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by Jennifer Davies, For WRS
ZURICH: MFO Park
by Burckhardt + Partner and Raderschall (2002)
Best for: Park lovers
Yes, Zurich has a lake with all its twee trappings, but when it comes to summer architectural sights, MFO Park is the best in the city. Hidden behind the office blocks at Oerlikon’s train station, it’s a large open steel frame, the same size and shape of the factory building (Maschinen Fabrik Oerlikon) which once stood there—only now it looks as though the triffids have taken over. Climbing plants such as wisteria and sweet peas reach to the sky. You can walk to the centre and scale the grid metal floors 17 metres to the full (not for the vertigo-challenged!) height. The park’s architect, Oliver Gilbert from Burckhardt + Partner, says he’s thrilled each time he visits: “Every time I come back here, it has changed and grown some more. It’s a surprise. It was like a skeleton when it was first built but now we can see the structure coming into being—it’s a building project that only nature can control!” (Read more about how this green building grew from its factory roots)
BASEL: Vitra Campus
by Various Artists (2010)
Weil am Rhein
Best for: “Star-chitect” showpieces
At the opening of Herzog & de Meuron’s VitraHaus in February, Jacques Herzog claimed, “Vitra has put Weil am Rhein on the map.” Just outside Basel across the Swiss-German border, the Vitra campus at Weil am Rhein stands on a four-acre industrial estate developed in the 1970s by namesake Vitra furniture company’s Basel-born chairman Rolf Fehlbaum. Over the years he’s hand-picked international architects to create the dozen or so industrial and museum buildings on site; from the first, Nicolas Grimshaw’s factory building in 1981, to Frank Gehry’s design museum in 1989, to Zaha Hadid’s fire station in 1994 and, most recently, Herzog & de Meuron’s VitraHaus, with a factory hall by Japanese duo SANAA to open in autumn 2010. Yet Fehlbaum has hit back at what some describe as this “stamp-collecting” approach to architecture, “We are not a sort of zoo for buildings,” he says. But, from a visitor’s perspective, does it really matter what how you label it? Admiring a gallery of original contemporary buildings in the countryside is no bad thing if you ask us.
LAUSANNE: Rolex Learning Center
by SANAA (2010)
Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL)
Best for: Sci-fi and future fans
It was this undulating building, which undeniably looks like a slice of melting Swiss cheese from above, that swayed the judges from the esteemed international Pritzker Prize to award Japanese duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (otherwise known as SANAA) with the 2010 Laureate. Walk around the building and you can’t help but feel a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe with its white space, organic curves and a learned hush to all areas. Large communal garden areas feature in the larger holes of “the cheese,” which encourage people to venture outdoors in good weather. Nishizawa explains the ethos: “Human movements are not linear like a train travels, but curve in a more organic way…architectural forms can be created from human movements, and, in turn, architecture influences humans.” Hmm…HAL couldn’t have said it better himself.
GRAUBÜNDEN: Therme Vals
by Peter Zumthor (1996)
Best for: Water babes
In person, 2009 Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor is like the “silent senator” of Swiss architecture and his showcase Therme Vals in Graubünden reflects an understated approach. “For me what’s important is the smell of the earth,” he says. “Architecture expresses itself through what surrounds us. It’s about composing your materials—like buying clothes.” Zumthor believes in sourcing locally and so based the whole structure on the local grey Vals quartz, which was cut to size in the quarry just behind the nearest village. The natural spring baths (a temperate 30°C) are fed from the mountainside and framed by walls made of thin slabs. Small monastic windows filter in shafts of light, which play on the surface of the water and hit the walls at angles like laser beams. And Therme Vals is inset into the side of the mountain, so a summer swim in the pools outside offers a stunning view of the surrounding landscape.
TICINO: Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli
by Mario Botta (1996)
Monte Tamaro (Rivera)
Best for: Pilgrims
You can only get to Mario Botta’s chapel, 1,600 metres above sea level, via cable car until 4 p.m.— so this experience requires some forward planning. But once you get there, it’s a breathtaking sight, with a long open-air walkway that arrives at the edge of the cliff with the valley stretching out below and a panorama of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. But tear yourself away from the unbeatable view, there’s still the church interior to visit. A walk through a long tunnel brings you to the circular sanctuary of the chapel, where the focal point is the religious contemporary artwork of Enzo Cucchi, whose fresco altarpiece depicts a pair of hands in a white outline on a dark blue background, lit from above by skylights that appear to cast light from the heavens. So be prepared, inside and out, the Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli is as dramatic as an Old Testament scene.