Contemporary Swiss Architecture
As befits Switzerland with its tradition of discretion, the country's most admired buildings do not include any of the world's tallest or most expensive structures.
What is surprising is the breadth and variety of quality that extends from the mountains to the plains and from the peripheral regions to the cities.
Switzerland has typical examples of every major trend in European architectural culture, although the scale here is more modest – after all, Swiss history lacks all-powerful rulers who set up suitable monuments for themselves. On the other hand, this country can look back on over 200 years of peace – and a vast stock of cultural treasures that are still preserved.
Entire towns and villages have retained much of their original settlement structure. The city of Berne, adopted by UNESCO as part of the "Cultural Heritage of Humanity", is just one of many examples. This is why Switzerland has also earned a reputation as an open-air museum. The country's interesting architectural attractions include residential buildings – which display the unique regional characteristics that are typically Swiss. Buildings worth discovering in this category include the stone houses in Ticino, the houses in the Engadine, the Walser settlements, half-timbered houses in eastern Switzerland, houses in Appenzell, Bernese chalets and houses in the Jura mountains.
But history-lovers are not the only visitors who will find plenty to interest them in Switzerland. From the early 20th century onwards, this country has produced several daring and visionary architects who have achieved global renown. Many of their works enrich and enliven the open-air museum that is Switzerland with mellow contrasts and modern accents.
The Bauhaus theories originated by Walter Gropius also swept through Switzerland in the 1920s. Charles Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, was the main pioneer in this regard. He attempted to combine human existence with the industrial society. Since he found it hard to gain acceptance for his concepts in Switzerland, most of his work was done abroad. But his first and last works are located in Switzerland: the Villa Jeanneret-Perret and the Heidi-Weber House His ideas paved the way for a new architecture geared to functionality and expediency, giving inspiration to a whole generation of new architects throughout the world and especially in Switzerland.
The Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931–1997) was one of the leading representatives of the post-modern movement and was a visiting professor and lecturer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. He expanded − and, to some extent, created contrasts with − the functional architecture of Le Corbusier, which was also described as "brutalism". His "architettura analoga" advocated a design process that emphasises subjective and phenomenological references. Rossi's postulate of the autonomy of architecture, his analytical engagement with the city and his focus on typological issues played a key part in the emancipation of German-Swiss architecture from the second modernist movement after 1945.
Finally, the 1980s saw a celebration of the Ticino Tendenza by virtue of its precise, formal and hand-crafted qualities; this movement (whose internationally renowned representative was Mario Botta) developed into one of the main traditions in contemporary Swiss architecture. It represents a unique symbiosis of rationalism, modernism, an awareness of history and reference to the landscape, with the main emphasis on the poetic nature of the construction.
Since the 1990s, the minimalist buildings of Herzog & de Meuron have created an international sensation.