Posts tagged with "Switzerland":

Swiss Institute moves into Selldorf-designed building on St. Marks

The Swiss Institute for Contemporary Art has opened its new 7,500 square foot Selldorf Architects-designed location on St. Marks Place in New York City. Taking over four levels of a former bank built in 1954 and designed by Alfred Hopkins and Associates, the renovation is, in the words of Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, a “counter narrative” to the building’s former financial, low-occupancy use. The Selldorf redesign uses a seemingly minimal touch. Though there have been significant changes—full stairwells and elevators have been added along with a total plan rework—the overall architectural sensibility feels light and unimposing. White walls remain unadorned. Flooring is understated. On all ceilings, ductwork, lighting, and structural elements remain exposed—a departure from many recent galleries in the city that have instead focused on hiding every functional detail, even the lighting, as much as possible. Curators generally aren’t keen on losing space to the workaday trappings of administrative necessity. Swiss Institute has filled every corner, wall, stairwell, and even the elevator with art to allow “artists to reclaim the space lost to New York City building code” as part of the SI ONSITE program. Stairwells feature sculptures and frescoes by Shahryar Nashat and Latifa Echakhch. The elevator has been turned into an artwork, skinned in a welcoming pink from Sherwin Williams called “Memorable Rose,” which is taken from the color of a tongue by artist Pamela Rosenkranz for an installation appropriately titled Color of a Tongue (Director) (2018). A cellar gallery remains honest about what it really is with layers of gray paint applied by Dusty Baker. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bkd-vN1FN80/?taken-at=1339491416095759 Like the building itself, the current exhibition, Readymades Belong to Everyone (open through August 19), is packed with art. The first floor, which features ceilings that soar over 17 feet, is dense with all variety of sculpture and 2D work. Despite lower ceilings, the new location's upper level is airy, wrapped in windows with exposed wood shining on the ceiling. There is a reading room, currently taken over by a project from Heman Chong in collaboration with Ken Liu. Chong and Liu’s Legal Books (Shanghai) features hundreds of books selected by Liu, a sci-fi writer and attorney, inspired by thinking on the Chinese legal system. The art instillation-cum-reading room features painted curtains by Jill Mulleady, another way in which the Institute is packing in the art. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkVg-UtlioO/?taken-at=5122362 One enters from Second Avenue to find a visitor welcome desk and a bookshop from Printed Matter. The entire space is decked out in the clean lines of USM’s furniture, and behind the visitor information desk is John Armleder’s Royal Flush (2018) installation of mirrored tiles reminiscent of a disco ball. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkYmINDnsN8/?taken-at=5122362 The Swiss Institute also takes the art outdoors with a terrace that places visitors in the midst of the city. The current plein air setup includes work by Valentin Carron, Nancy Lupo, and Michael Wang. In Wang's Extinct in the Wild series, the artist references Peter Stuyvesant's original orchard, composed of native plants that now only grow with human care and populated what is now the East Village. Signage on the building is multilingual, not merely with the four official languages of Switzerland, but also with the most spoken languages in the Swiss Institute's new surrounding area: English, Spanish, and Chinese. The Swiss Institute, which has free admission, has also been collaborating with local community organizations for artist-led workshops and is actively celebrating the artistic history and present of their new East Village location. The Swiss Institute’s new 38 St. Marks location opens with the exhibition Readymades Belong to Everyone, on view now, curated by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen. In addition to the artists described above, the show features many architects and designers including OFFICE, Rem Koolhaas, MOS Architects, and Sauter von Moos in collaboration with Herzog and de Meuron.

Robots blow bubble walls and algorithms make miniature landscapes in “Automatic Architectures”

https://vimeo.com/273390191 Presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Automatic Architecture examines the space of automation and algorithms in architecture through two projects, Wall and Space. The projects were realized as part of a workshop led by Riccardo Blumer at the Academy of Architecture at the University of Italian Switzerland in Mendrisio, Switzerland with support from U.S. non-profit MADWORKSHOP. Automatic Architecture presents two different collaborative projects. Walls is a series of roboticized bars pulling planes of soap bubbles, stretching them to their physical limits until they lost their form. “It contemplates a space in which tangible walls can be there one minute and gone the next,” as Blumer says in a video produced on the project by PLANESITE. The 11 rods that stretch out the panels of the wall begin together but invariably fall out of sync with one another as they attempt to create a complete, continuous wall. Defined by its ephemerality, Wall generates a space that “simultaneously does and doesn’t exist.” Walls is a collaboration between Lorela Arapi, Stefano Clerici, and Andrea Cappellaro. Space presents a grid of automated blocks that rise and fall in a constantly shifting pattern determined by an algorithmic model that can run without repeating a form for 250 years, suggesting that architecture is itself constantly in flux and highlighting the tension between order and expression. Space was created by Georgios Voutsis.

The triumph of the one-liner in Venice

Traditionally, the one-liner is derided in architecture as something crude, unsophisticated, and anti-intellectual. It gets abuse from all angles, from conceptually-minded curators, traditional architecture critics, and even virtuosic architects who prefer “multiple readings” of objects, or “difficult wholes.” It seems the one-liner is the most isolated and hated syntactic metaphor in the architect’s tool bag; the last frontier of architectural bad taste. Even Patrik Schumacher complained on Facebook about the National Pavilions. “"Pavilions were...given over to one-liner installations, which could be absorbed by stepping in and out for 30 seconds." However, one-liners finally got their due at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, where simpler, conceptual installations took home the Golden Lion of National Participation as well as the special mention in the same category. The Swiss Pavilion, "Svizzera 240: House Tour" was a delightful funhouse where the everyday elements—doors, windows, handles, and kitchen appliances—of a typical new apartment were exaggerated to be too small and too big, creating a disorienting space that explored the banality of contemporary residential construction and the distortions of scale that are caused by photography in the real estate industry. It was a one-liner that executed one concept well enough to provoke not only happy visitors, but also allowed personal reflection on whatever the topic at hand. The actual pavilion avoided over-complication (which plagued many of the national pavilions), and provided a “freespace” for contemplation and reflection. Because after all, even the simplest pavilion cannot be fully understood in every single aspect, and the most complicated book-on-the-wall exhibition can’t fully explain anything anyway, even if you took the biennale's full six months to read it all. The winning pavilions avoided many of the problems faced by some of the other national participants. First, there is an increasing trend of pavilions getting overrun by curators who want to foreground curatorial practice pyrotechnics over smart delivery of content, obscuring the point of the exhibition. The one-liner doesn’t do this. Secondly, some pavilions looked to appropriate the headlines and buzzwords of the day, delivering incoherent and scattered exhibitions that paradoxically make arguments against the possibility of freespace today. And thirdly, the one-liners actually provide respite from the book-on-the-wall urbanism exhibitions, which ended up falling flat. One-liners, like deadpan humor, often do not have punchlines, and leave an open-ended silence at the end of the joke, as is the case for the special mention–winning British Pavilion, "Island," where Caruso St. John emptied the pavilion out and constructed a large plinth over the top. It is unclear what the point was, but the effects were spectacular, lifting the user over the Giardini, causing a certain estrangement from the Biennale itself, and forging a connection with the city beyond. Of course, one-liners always hint at more. They are short and seem simple, but with a little thought, can reveal the layers beneath, like a good Rodney Dangerfield or Norm Macdonald joke. Both the Swiss and British installations rearranged bodies in particular ways, which gave them not only multiple interpretations, but highly individualized experiences that could be taken with layers of meaning. One-liners are funnier than zero-liners. And one-liners can avoid many of the pitfalls of 15-liners, which end up being zero-liners anyway. The Belgian pavilion, "Eurotopie," also stood out as a one-liner: a simple concentric series of blue circles created a forum of sorts in the building; as did the Nordic, which simply featured inflatable sculptures. Instead of over-complicating things with over-curation, the one-liners produced this “freespace,” allowing the visitor to become part of the exhibition, but without sacrificing intellectual rigor or content.

Kenneth Frampton among Golden Lion winners at 2018 Venice Biennale

At the 16th Venice Biennale of Architecture, the Golden Lion for National Participation was awarded to Switzerland for a minimal yet amusing installation Svizzera 240: House Tour, a mock luxury apartment that had been multiplied and re-scaled throughout the pavilion’s spaces. The humorous interpretation was meant to challenge our perceptions of scale in the domestic environment, as well as draw attention to the banality of these spaces. The Golden Lion for best individual participant went to Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura for a pair of photographs showing a before and after of a renovation of São Lourenço do Barrocal estate in Alentejo, Portugal, which was barely perceptible. The focus on architecture here, rather than a grand political statement, is in line with the overall character of the show, as well as the judge’s choices. A special mention went to the British Pavilion, for a dramatic structure, Island, that hovered over the building, which was left completely empty. On the plinth above, a cafe was setup and visitors could feel isolated from the Giardini below, while enjoying a beautiful view. Special mentions were given to Indian architect Rahul Mehrotra and Indonesian architect Andra Matin. New York–based British historian Kenneth Frampton won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Critic Peter Lang told AN, “Grabbing the Golden Lion trophy like a brick, Frampton hoisted it up to shoulder height and beamed with no small amount of delight. In an exchange of banter between him and the curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara, where they referred to his hugely influential legacy and his role as a “barometer of truth,” Ken responded wryly that they were the best architects in the world. Ken stood firmly by Hannah Arendt and his belief that modernism is an unfinished project. Clearly there will be more reflections from this British critic to come.”

Swiss researchers use robots to build complex timber structures

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland, are giving timber construction a mechanical leg up with the introduction of prefabricated, robotically-assembled timber frame housing. Together with Erne AG Holzbau, a contracting firm that specializes in timber, researchers at the institute’s Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication have developed Spatial Timber Assemblies, a system for digitally fabricating and constructing complex forms from timber. After a model of the structure has been laid out, robotic arms mounted in the ceiling of the assembly chamber are capable of building the required parts as well as putting them together. First, one arm picks up a beam and holds it while a human trims the piece into the proper size and shape. Then, a second robot arm pre-drills the holes needed for attaching the beam to the structure; finally, both robot arms work together to precisely place the beam as a human attaches it. Thanks to algorithms developed by the researchers, the arms are able to constantly recalculate their location in space and how to move forward without bumping into each other (or humans on the job site). A major advantage of Spatial Timber Assemblies is that the structures built this way carry their load-bearing capacity structurally, and don’t require reinforcing plates or any additional steel. If the overall design changes during construction, researchers are able to calculate a new, optimized framing solution using load-distribution algorithms. The system is more than theoretical. ETH researchers are currently using it to assemble six unique modules, which will join to frame the top two floors of the experimental DFAB HOUSE in Dübendorf, a suburb of Zurich. Once installed on site, both floors will have distinct rooms across 328 square feet of floor space. The final design, which uses 487 individual beams, will be wrapped in a clear plastic facade so that the underlying timber structure can remain exposed. Advancements in robotic construction are advancing rapidly, and ETH researchers have been developing robots that weld, spray concrete, and stack bricks to create forms that would have been difficult to build previously. And if the ETH needs help decorating the interior of their research house, robots can now assemble IKEA furniture, too.

Ultrathin concrete roof to cap a net-positive energy rooftop apartment

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A full-scale prototype of the design was the culmination of a four-year research project by ETH Zürich, and now the thin-shell integrated system's concrete roof is under construction. The razor-thin assembly, built over the course of six months, tapers to an impressive one-inch thickness at the perimeter, averaging two inches thick across its more than 1,700 square feet of surface area. The ongoing project, sponsored by ETH Zürich, NCCR Digital Fabrication, and Holcim Schweiz, will lead to the completion of a rooftop apartment unit called HiLo, which will offer live-work space for guest faculty of Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.  
  • Facade Manufacturer Jakob (cables); Bruno Lehmann (rods and cable-net components); Blumer Lehmann (timber); Dafotech (steel supports + plates); Bieri (fabric cutting + sewing)
  • Architects supermanoeuvre; Bollinger+Grohmann
  • Facade Installer Marti (general contractor); Bürgin Creations (concrete); Holcim Schweiz (concrete development); Doka (scaffolding)
  • Facade Consultants ETH Zürich (Block Research Group, Mathematical and Physical Geodesy, Automatic Control Laboratory)
  • Location Zürich & Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • Date of Completion 2017-18
  • System thin shell concrete with integrated systems
  • Products custom assembly of concrete, steel cable net, polymer textile formwork, heating and cooling coils, insulation, and thin-film photovoltaic cells
The rooftop structure rises about 24 feet high, encompassing 1,300 square feet. Innovations in thin-shell building techniques were explored by the Block Research Group, led by Professor Block and senior researcher Dr. Tom Van Mele, together with the architecture office supermanoeuvre. The team purposefully avoided wasteful non-reusable formwork, opting instead to develop a net of steel cables stretched into a reusable scaffolding structure. The cable net supported a polymer textile that forms the shell surface. According to ETH Zurich press release, “this not only enabled the researchers to save a great deal on material for construction, they were also able to provide a solution to efficiently realise completely new kinds of design.” The construction technique leaves the interior floor area below the roof relatively unobstructed, allowing interior construction work to proceed concurrently. Altogether, this method is expected to condense construction to eight to ten weeks. Block Research Group and NCCR Digital Fabrication were able to digitally model dynamic forces wet concrete applies to the lightweight cable net and textile formwork, so that the overall geometry and structuring of the surface can be calibrated to produce an accurate result. This level of optimization is perhaps most evident in the capacity of the reusable formwork system to hold around 25 times its own weight (20 tons of wet concrete will eventually load onto the formwork).
Experts from Bürgin Creations and Marti sprayed the concrete using a method developed specifically for this purpose, ensuring that the textile could withstand the pressure at all times. Together with Holcim Schweiz, the scientists determined the correct concrete mix, which had to be fluid enough to be sprayed and vibrated yet viscous enough to not flow off the fabric shuttering, even in the vertical spots. The innovative concrete structure offers more than a new method for constructing concrete shell structures: it’s aim is to be an intelligent, lightweight energy-producing system. This is achieved by careful assembly of multiple layers of building systems. Two layers of concrete sandwich together insulation, heating and cooling coils, while thin-film photovoltaic cells wrap the exterior surface. The residential unit, enclosed by this roof system, and an adaptive solar-shaded facade, is expected to generate more energy than it consumes.  “We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction” said Block in a press release. Because we developed the system and built the prototype step by step with our partners from industry, we now know that our approach will work at the NEST construction site.” You can view progress at the Dübendorf, Switzerland construction site via live webcam, accessed here.

Experimental Swiss apartment wants to bring timber into the 21st century

The Wood Materials Science department at ETH Zurich in Switzerland is pioneering new ways of utilizing timber and wood construction by imbuing the traditional material with extraordinary properties using its new Vision Wood apartment prototype. The multidisciplinary team—guided by department head Tanja Zimmermann and wood materials science professor Ingo Burget, and joined by a slew of industry partners—developed the prototype apartment in an effort to find new uses for the continent’s abundant, but mostly underutilized, beech lumber. Beech lumber is a hard and versatile wood with superb structural capabilities, but it is also prone to sun damage, rot, and warping. To combat these maladies, the team developed a slew of experimental applications of beech wood building components that have been waterproofed, magnetized, and mineralized in order to broaden their residential applications. The team, for example, subjected the wood to laccase-catalyzed reactions in order to derive a wood fiber–based insulation that eliminates the need for synthetic binding agents. The fully sustainable biopolymers—made from lignin compounds and modified starch naturally found in wood—were molded into tongue-and-groove-shaped insulation blocks that can be packed into building cavities, providing a nontoxic insulation material. Another innovation came in the form of an exterior-cladding coating application developed from gelatinous nanofibrillated cellulose. The varnish improves UV protection, waterproofing, and resistance to microorganism infestations and cracks for exterior wood treatments. The apartment interiors—which will be occupied by a pair of doctoral students—are rife with new applications, including antimicrobial wood surfaces treated with an enzymatic method developed by university researchers that utilizes a bacteriostatic iodine coating to kill bacteria. The application has been used on door handles in kitchens and bathrooms in the unit in an effort to improve indoor hygiene. The apartment features hydrophobic wood sinks in the bathroom that have been treated in situ with polymerizing agents that not only repel water from their surfaces but are also designed to give the appearance of untreated wood. The researchers inserted iron oxide nanoparticles into wooden blocks to develop a magnetized task board that utilizes the natural structure of wood to create a material that can be selectively magnetized as well. On top of that, the team developed a fire-resistant mineralized wood panel system that can be used for doors and other interior applications in lieu of toxic flame-retardants. This panel system can be entirely sourced and fabricated in Switzerland and features reduced dimensions relative to traditional lumber construction due to the wood’s structural capabilities. In all, the test apartment points a way forward for wood construction that relies on abundant and local wood sources, while also pursuing sustainable and nontoxic material applications.

Design Week Mexico dives into the history of Swiss design

A major theme throughout this year’s Design Week Mexico, held during the second week of October, was the connection between Mexico and Switzerland. Each year, Design Week chooses a different country to explore design and collaboration. The most prominent portion of this year’s international exchanges is the current exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Mexico City, entitled 100 Years of Swiss Design. As the name would imply, the show gathers 250 objects produced in the past century, producing a survey of one of the world’s most influential design cultures. Included in the show are 210 originals, 21 reprints, 13 special editions and six reproductions, which are augmented by an additional 50 posters and 42 books. The content of the show has been collected from 27 collections of museums and galleries, private companies, and private collectors. The objects range from vegetable peelers and a tea pot to downhill skis and train station clocks. While many of the objects will be familiar, including chairs by Le Corbusier and knives designed by Max Bill for the Victorinox company, others show a different side of Swiss design. Strikingly, a number of heavily patterned pieces and brightly colored works break the typical image of austere Modern Swiss design. Yet any show about Swiss design would not be complete without the inclusion of the ubiquitous Swiss typefaces, Helvetica, Univers, and Frutiger. The show includes a large wall covered in the dozens of famous logos which have used these Modernist typefaces over the past half century. 100 Years of Swiss Design was originally exhibited at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich in 2014. This latest version of the show has been expanded with the inclusion of work that directly ties together the history of Swiss and Mexican design. Specifically, the show includes works of once–Bauhaus director, Hannes Meyer, who worked in Mexico as director of the Institute of Urban Planning and Planning of the National Polytechnic Institute and the Popular Graphic Workshop. Also included is the more recent work of Yves Béhar, who contributed to a project promoted by the Mexican Secretary of Public Education with eyeglass lens designs for students with vision problems. Adding to the cross-national collection is the work of Mexican designers who worked in Switzerland, including Uzyel Karp and Moisés Hernández. On view through February 25,2018, 100 Years of Swiss Design was curated by Francisco Torres, and is a collaboration between the Embassy of Switzerland in Mexico, Design Week Mexico, The Ministry of Culture, and the National Institute of Fine Arts, through the Museum of Modern Art.

3XN releases new renderings of the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne

The International Olympic Committee is getting a new home, and the accommodations don't look too shabby. Danish firm 3XN has just released new renderings for the Committee's new headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Olympic House, as it has been dubbed, features a curving facade of glass and steel and is nested into a green surrounding landscape adjacent to the Committee's former home, an 18th-century castle dubbed the Château de Vidy. Vidy, a neighborhood within Lausanne, sits near the shores of Lake Geneva and within direct view of the cascading, snow-capped Swiss Alps. 95 percent of the materials from the administrative buildings formerly occupying the new building's site will be recycled into the new structure, as part of the firm's efforts to incorporate sustainable construction techniques. The building's interior is based on open space and concentric circles—a double-flight staircase on the main floor leads up to an ascending sequence of circular balconies arranged at staggered angles, crowned by a skylight above. The exterior, an undulating pattern of paneled glass, is inspired by Eadweard Muybridge-like photographs of athletes in motion and is intended to appear different from every slight shift in angle. According to 3XN senior partner Jan Ammundsen, the design is based on principles of flexibility, movement, and sustainability, with shared spaces in the building able to be programmed for adaptive usage as it ages. Just this past April, 3XN was selected from a group of architects vying for the commission, which included Toyo Ito, Amanda Levete, and OMA.  

Dominique Perrault’s hinged facade

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The result of a winning competition entry from 2011, the Mechanics Hall building carefully integrates new program within an existing campus framework at the campus of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The Swiss university is a research institute specializing in physical sciences and engineering. The design-build project—a collaboration between French-based Dominique Perrault Architects and Steiner SA—serves as a laboratory for research scientists, and consists of two wings connected by a large central atrium. The composition of the space is organized by an existing structure, which dates back to the early 1970s.
  • Facade Manufacturer Bluesteel SRL
  • Architects Dominique Perrault Architecture; Gaëlle Lauriot-Prévost (Interior Design and Lighting); Architram (local architect)
  • Facade Installer Steiner SA
  • Facade Consultants PREFACE SARL (facades); Daniel Willi SA (structure)
  • Location Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Date of Completion 2016
  • System unitized panel with operable metallic mesh solar shade
  • Products GKD metal fabrics (metallic mesh); Bluesteel SRL (aluminum frame)
The building incorporates industrial components and data processing technologies while preserving the circulation network and the structural grid established by the original master plan. The main entrance features a 40-foot-high self-supporting structure with a canopy that integrates water drainage through poles that double as lateral bracing members. The facades of the building combine two distinct architectural styles in one common material: a metallic mesh from GKD Metal Fabrics. The architects said this material is both a contextual response to neighboring buildings with operable elements that evoke the scope of mechanical engineering. A mechanical facade along the East, South, and West of the building involves shop-built modules dimensionally benchmarked off a geometry that was established by EPFL’s historic master plan. Each module is composed of an inner thermal and soundproofing layer paired with an outer solar protection layer. The modules are divided into three vertical panels, two of which are sliding with one static. These panels are operated through a building automation system, but can also be maneuvered manually by the user of the building. The solar screen is set at a staggered 5-degree tilt away from the facade, producing a super-scale woven pattern. The architects said the indoor lighting system provides a backlit effect at night, highlighting the translucency of the facade assembly: “With its blinds that shift and turn with the Lausanne skies, the slant of the frames and the weave of the mesh, and the visual clash between the threshold and the outer panels, the building offers a range of rich and contrasting perceptions.” A “historic” facade on the north elevation features original construction that was retrofitted to meet the stringent Swiss-based Minergie energy standard. Wide horizontal window units roughly 5-feet by 10-feet are mounted above an opaque apron mode of horizontal stamped sheet metal. On the interior, the architects said an open office layout was located at the perimeter of the building, and benefits from ample screened glazing: “Comfortable, luminous and spacious rooms are apt spaces for long hours of research work.” Beyond the facade, an atrium facilitates chance encounters and circulation through a series of flared diagonal corridors and straight staircases. The architects said this the circulation scheme of the atrium creates a “fantastic spatial experience” that was inspired by Piranesi’s Capricci: “Superimposed planes and crisscrossing lines create a dynamic tri-dimensional picture, which is deconstructed and reconstructed by each visitor passing through it.” Dominique Perrault will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Facades+ conference in New York City, April 6 and 7. Click here to learn more!

This is the best performing all-glass facade system in SOM’s history

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Surrounded by parkland and built on a former industrial site, the new JTI Headquarters is located in a Geneva district home to prestigious international organizations. JTI (Japan Tobacco International) is a global tobacco company whose flagship brands include Winston, Camel, Mild Seven, Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut. The competition-winning design consolidates four existing JTI premises within a single landmark building. The project—a collaboration between SOM’s architecture, structural engineering, and interior teams—was led by their London office, but involved expertise from SOM offices in New York and Chicago, along with architects on site in Geneva throughout construction. Kent Jackson, design partner at SOM, said the new building demonstrates SOM’s commitment to integrated design, sustainability, and innovative workplace solutions. "Clearly we feel it is a huge benefit to bring all of our disciplines together and bringing different experts from across our offices. This is something we think brings added value to a project."
  • Facade Manufacturer Josef Gertner AG
  • Architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Burckhardt+Partner AG (Local Architect)
  • Facade Installer Josef Gartner AG (facade contractor)
  • Facade Consultants n/a
  • Location Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Date of Completion 2015
  • System Closed Cavity Facade (CCF)
  • Products Interpane ipasol bright white coating on low-iron glass (Outer solar control glass); Interpane iplus 3E coatings on low-iron glass (Inner triple insulated glass); Mechoshade Thermoveil 1519 ‘ Silver Birch’ (Shading blinds within cavity); Christian Pohl GmbH (Anodized aluminum perforated soffit panels)
The building’s innovative Closed Cavity Facade (CCF) was designed in collaboration with Josef Gartner GmbH as a unitized curtain wall system that responds to the demands of seasonally changing external climatic conditions while providing exceptional views out and maximizing daylight penetration into the workspace. The facade prioritizes occupant comfort and reduces the energy demand and carbon emissions of the building, helping it to meet the requirements of European energy directives and the Swiss Minergie sustainability rating. The floor-to-ceiling glazed panels measure approximately 10-foot-wide-by-14-feet-tall and consist of triple glazing on the inner layer and single glazing on the outer, forming a cavity with a fabric roller blind in between. One challenge with a typical double skin facade is the risk of condensation and dirt in the cavity. This introduces the need to provide maintenance access to the cavity, either by opening up the interior side or exterior side of the assembly. The closed cavity facade at JTI reduces these requirements, because rather than drawing external air into the cavity, the cavity is pressurized with a very small amount of filtered and dehumidified air from a pipe system that runs around the perimeter of the building. This ensures dirt and moisture from outside don't travel through into the cavity, while also preventing condensation inside the cavity. To achieve this design, SOM relied on facade contractors who have become skilled in the assembly of envelopes that minimize building air leakage. Martin Grinnell, Associate Director at SOM and Technical Lead on the project, attributes this to increasingly stringent air tightness standards in Europe, where many buildings undergo building envelope pressure testing. "We were confident we could achieve this design and get a very careful balance of air tightness with a modest pump in the basement to pressurize all of the facade panels." The German-made closed cavity facade was shop-built in individual unitized panels comprised of both the inner and outer layer of glazing. By producing these units in a controlled factory environment, the fabrication sequence could ensure the cavity remained clean throughout the construction process. The panels were tested in the factory for air tightness, and whilst stored in the yard of the factory they were temporarily tapped into an air supply system which kept the cavity pressurized prior to delivery to site. Once installed on site, the panels were plugged immediately into a network of pressurized air so that the cavity would not draw in dirty air or moisture from construction activity. With just a single glazed pane on the outer layer of the facade, Grinnell says the project team was able to produce a more expressive facade. “We were able to achieve a quilted appearance on the outside; incorporating very delicate mullions, transoms, and diagonal elements because we were using a single outer layer. We were able to facet this layer much more easily than if we were trying to do that with a double or triple glazed layer. I think this lent a real delicacy to the detailing of the outer skin of the facade." Grinnell said the facade represents one of the best performing all-glass facade systems in SOM’s history. "This was a great project, and is a great demonstration of what a closed cavity facade system can do. We're very proud of it. All of the European countries—UK included—are pushing harder and harder on energy efficiency, and clients are quite rightly looking to us to improve the efficiency of our facades. We are going to be developing more and more facades which rely on dynamic performance—having to achieve very good solar control in the summer, while admitting sunlight in the winter—and the closed cavity facade is a really interesting solution to achieve that."

A house in Switzerland uniquely marries mass production ideas and technology with high-end customization

A house in Bern, Switzerland, marries high-tech production with high-end customization thanks to a bespoke building system by architect Ali Tayar.

While studying architecture in the United States and Europe, Ali Tayar fell under the spell of Fritz Haller, a Swiss architect known for his building systems—kits of parts that proved far more elegant than their industrial origins suggested. Though he designed many buildings using such components, Haller became most famous for his sleek storage units assembled from chrome steel rods and ball joints. Beloved by architects, the pieces have been marketed under the name USM Haller since the 1960s.

Tayar’s small Chelsea-based firm, Parallel Design Partnership, won an award from the Architectural League in 2002. He gave a talk about the debt architects such as Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, and Norman Foster owe to Haller, as well as Haller’s influence on his own designs, which at that time included several widely praised furniture systems. A USM employee heard the talk, and soon Tayar was on a plane to Switzerland, where he began working for both the company and one of its top executives. The company tasked him to design not just a line of tables, but also a hotel in Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn. There, Tayar managed to turn standardized metal and plywood parts into an extraordinarily luxurious environment. More recently, the executive asked him to design a house on the outskirts of Bern. Not only was the site inspiring—offering views of the Alps just a few miles from the city center—but the client “was open to the idea of systems like no client was ever going to be,” said Tayar. “It was a bit like answered prayers.”

And so Tayar began two simultaneous projects: creating new building systems and then designing a home using those systems. As a result, neither the main volume of the house or the projecting living room has a conventional frame. The larger volume is supported by a series of stainless-steel columns that are so thin (less than three square inches) that they don’t look structural. Arranged at the perimeter of the building, they function perfectly as mullions, holding windows, air vents, and elegant teak panels in a wide variety of combinations, recalling the work of Jean Prouvé. The resulting interiors are column-free.

Emerging almost defiantly from the main volume is the living room. Its entire structure is made of carbon fiber, a material most often associated with boats. Tayar found a boatyard on the Adriatic Sea that could make the room in five near-identical pieces. The pieces were trucked to the site, where they were joined together by carbon fiber frames. The result is a room that, reduced in size, could pass through an airport metal detector. “There’s no difference between structure and surface,” Tayar said. “It’s like the hull of a boat.”

But Tayar was determined to make the house equally livable and impressive. He covered the living room floor in felt, its panels cut into lozenge shapes that mimic the room’s geometry, and made the ceiling out of perforated aluminum panels that follow the same outlines. Paneling, including large cove moldings, fit into the carbon fiber shell like a hand into a glove. The main event furniture-wise is a vast two-sided sofa designed by Tayar and covered in Maharam fabric; on one side, it’s proportioned for lying down, on the other, for sitting. The rest of the living room furniture is USM Haller.

Architecturally, the main volume is a sophisticated take on the split-level, with stairs leading up to the kitchen and baths. The floors are covered in a continuous surface of terrazzo. Little furniture was required beyond a few large Tayar-conceived pieces and the Arne Jacobsen chairs around the Haller dining table. Tayar designed the owner’s bed with its rich leather headboard. Flanking the bed are built-in night stands lit softly through panels of mother-of-pearl, reminiscent of panels Tayar loved when he visited Tokyo’s Hotel Okura (which is now demolished). In the bathroom, he built a tub from limestone, one of the few remaining pieces at a Swiss quarry founded by the Romans. Like the tub, everything inside the house is custom—cabinetry is the same teak as the walls, while drawer pulls are made of leather. Hinges were made at the USM factory.

Whenever possible, Tayar worked with companies, such as Maharam, that have something in common with USM: Family businesses that have focused on doing one thing, and doing it well, for generations.

Tayar is philosophical about the gap between what mass production could achieve (affordable housing for millions) and what he achieved in this case: a single, high-end dwelling. And he knows his ideas may seem retro in an age of parametric design, when the latest technology allows buildings to be made of thousands of different parts and mass customization has eclipsed mass production. But he doesn’t regret his experiment. Designers need to edit, and Tayar used the ideas of mass production—what can and can’t be made from standardized components—as a guide to editing his work.

And other architects may follow. Someday, “after people have made every nutty shape possible, they’re going to want to start to edit,” Tayar said. And when they do, they may take a close look at his experiment in Bern.

Note: We're saddened to add that Mr. Tayar passed away in early 2016.