Given the amazing trajectory of Modern architecture in Switzerland, from the early Bauhaus influence of Mart Stam and Herbert Beyer in the 1930s to the post-war Critical Regionalism of the Tichino School, it is not surprising that a continued high level... [more]
Given the amazing trajectory of Modern architecture in Switzerland, from the early Bauhaus influence of Mart Stam and Herbert Beyer in the 1930s to the post-war Critical Regionalism of the Tichino School, it is not surprising that a continued high level of architectural output continues in this country.
A new generation of Swiss architects, primarily located in Basle, has produced a body of work that is consistently brilliant, both formally and aesthetically. Eschewing the theoretical tendencies of their contemporaries, these architects maintain a studied interest in the material aspects of their designs - directly confronting the architectural problem itself. Form is generated from a strict understanding of material properties and structural considerations. This scrutiny of the basic elements underlies a strict intentionality in the work, one in which nothing is extemporaneous. For this group, a theoretical crutch does not support the work and forms are not generated in the superfluous frenzy of free association.
These architects -- including Herzog and DeMeuron, Diener and Diener, and Peter Zumthor -- employ a material and constructional reality that reflects a continued cultural condition inherent to Northern Switzerland. Here, architects have maintained the traditional use of natural materials -- notably wood and stone -- and their processes of assembly. Yet instead of relying on vernacular forms, the architects have developed unique and highly modern intentions in their work, often through an almost reductive, perhaps even minimalist, approach. This return to basic elements is fostered through an appreciation of construction and an acute awareness of the site and topographic constraints.
Yet despite these commonalities, there exist important differences. Peter Zumthor's more poetic and craft-oriented projects contrast with Herzog and DeMeuron's explorations of the phenomenological possibilities of different materials -- witness the team's seminal Goetz Gallery (1989-1992), with its alternating facade of glass and plywood, the latter of which is often confused in photographs for a smooth-faced concrete. Moreover, while Herzog and DeMeuron have created a series of highly influential urban projects that respond to existing scale and metropolitan fabric, much of Zumthor's output has been a collection of beautifully crafted freestanding buildings, often set in ex-urban conditions. His Thermal Baths at Vals (1992-1996) and Sogn Benedetg Chapel (1986-1988) are exemplary reflections of buildings reduced to their almost minimal conditions, as if acting as paradigms for all building. Indeed, the works of these architects and others, including the irrepressible team of Gigon Guyer, point to an architectural culture rooted in the processes of its place, yet reflective of the modernizing impulses of its profession.