Architecture of Switzerland: implementation of ideas in stone and concrete

Architecture of Switzerland: implementation of ideas in stone and concrete

At the architectural festival CONaction, held in Kyiv, Swiss architects took center stage. They showcased a modern approach to architecture, focusing on cost-effectiveness and advanced technologies, which significantly transformed the construction landscape in Switzerland.

David Maculla, a renowned Swiss architect, noted: "Each space is closely linked with its environment, and this influences perception." An example of his work is a private house with an area of 1030 m2, located in the Alpine Canobbio. Constructed in 2009, this house impresses not just with its unusual shapes, but also with a cost of one million Swiss francs. Although it's not the most expensive project, it vividly demonstrates the characteristic features of Swiss architecture – elegance, simplicity, and high cost, comparable to the famous Swiss watches known for their quality and refinement.

More than Le Corbusier

Peter Vetsch

The diversity of Swiss architectural studios such as PRS Architects, Mauro Turin Architecte, Stocker Lee Architetti, and Vetsch Architektur is impressive in its breadth and scale. These firms carry out projects not only within Switzerland but also internationally, creating unique architectural masterpieces around the world. Their works include the residential complex "Earth Structures" by Peter Vetsch, as well as an unusual villa built into a mountain slope, realized by Bjarne Mastenbroek and Christian Müller from SeARCH and CMA. These are just parts of Switzerland's unique architectural wealth. Major structures like galleries, business centers, stations, and stadiums are the domains of architectural masters like Mario Botta, Jacques Herzog, and Pierre de Meuron, each contributing their unique touch, reflecting the spirit of Switzerland's three leading architectural schools.

Mario Botta, a distinguished representative of the Ticino school and a student of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, is famous for his large-scale projects, including the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. However, his small projects stand out, where he demonstrates a deep understanding and connection with the environment.

Villa Rotonda

Mario Botta, a celebrated Swiss architect, has left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape of Switzerland, designing a number of outstanding villas in various parts of the country. His iconic works include Villa Rotonda and Villa Bianchi, situated on the shores of Lake Lugano. These structures are considered just as significant as Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater House. The city of Lugano has become a kind of exhibition hall for Botta's works, where one can see many buildings executed in his signature style. This style is characterized by simple geometric shapes, roof windows, and small binocular-like openings. One of Botta's well-known creations is also in Switzerland, affirming his mastery and influence on the country's architecture.

Tschuggen Bergoase Spa hotel in Arosa

Other notable works by Mario Botta include the unique Tschuggen Bergoase Spa hotel in Arosa, and two extraordinary churches in Ticino: the futuristic Santa Maria degli Angeli on Monte Tamaro and the cylindrical San Giovanni Battista in Mogno. Botta is also responsible for designing the administrative building of the United Bank of Switzerland in Basel, the Dürrenmatt Center near Neuchâtel, and the Jean Tinguely Museum. The Dürrenmatt Center project was particularly challenging, requiring meticulous underground work to preserve the ancient home of the writer.

Since the 1990s, the focus of attention in Swiss architecture has shifted from the Ticino school to architects from German-speaking cantons. This new generation of architects has developed its own unique language and approach to architecture, evident in the creation of elegant and symbolically significant buildings worldwide. For them, architecture is primarily a constructive art. An example of this approach is the studio Herzog & de Meuron, founded in 1978 by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. These architects, favoring minimalism and experimental materials, constructed the building for the Swiss Federal Railways and the largest stadium in the country, St. Jakob in Basel, and soon became the first Swiss recipients of the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

St. Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel

After working on St. Jakob in Basel, they quickly became the first Swiss recipients of the Pritzker Prize, comparable to the Nobel Prize in architecture. Their distinctive feature is the use of ordinary materials, previously considered trivial and unsuitable for high architecture.

Ricola Storage Building

An example of this approach is the Ricola Storage Building, erected by Herzog & de Meuron in Laufen, located south of Basel, which excellently demonstrates this style.

Peter Zumthor, another recipient of the Pritzker Prize, chose traditional stone to create his famous thermal baths complex in Vals, aiming to construct a majestic building with serene lighting, protected from the harsh contrasts of the surrounding landscape.

Thermal Baths in Vals

The main task is to harmoniously integrate into the surrounding environment, demonstrating the refinement and confident simplicity that has become the hallmark of modern Swiss architecture.

A distinctive feature of the creations of architects from the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland is the focus on form. They use so-called "strong forms" - buildings created as geometric volumes. This simplicity of forms helps to focus attention on volume, materials, texture, and color. The influence of abstractionism and minimalism in their design turns even ordinary objects into works of art. Examples include the Liner Museum in Appenzell, built by the architectural firm Gigon & Guyer, and the famous complex by Herzog & de Meuron, built for the Swiss Federal Railways, including a concrete booth adorned with copper hoops at the Basel SBB station. These structures are not only architectural works but also symbols of the urban landscape. The works of Justus Dahinden, including the Ferro House in Zurich and the Migros supermarket building in Bern, belong to the same category.

Critics have expressed mixed opinions about so-called Swissbox architecture, accusing its representatives of placing too much emphasis on external form at the expense of the interior space. However, it cannot be denied that Herzog & de Meuron created a unique design for the Mulhouse warehouse near Basel, turning it into a landmark.


By applying patterns to such a commonplace material as concrete slabs, architects transformed an ordinary gray building into a real work of art. They are currently working on creating a new office complex, the "Roche Tower," reaching 178 meters in height in Basel. The construction is planned to be completed in 2015.

KKL Center over Lake Lucerne

The third element defining the uniqueness of Swiss architecture is foreign architects, successfully competing with local masters. Switzerland has been fortunate in attracting Pritzker Prize laureates, outstanding builders of modernity, for their projects. In the early 1990s, Jean Nouvel won the first-ever Swiss competition open not just to local architects. He constructed the massive KKL Center over Lake Lucerne, creating a strong new image for the city. Renzo Piano, the creator of the EU's tallest building, the Shard Bridge in London, contributed to Swiss architecture with the Beyeler Gallery near Basel and the Paul Klee Center in Bern, envisioned as a sculptural modification of the landscape.

Paul Klee Center in Bern

In conclusion

Eastern Europe should acknowledge that society craves a completely new type of space.