2013 - 2014: Ground Cover
Laura Allen, Kyle Buchanan, Mark Smout
“La suisse n’existe pas”, in this one key sentence Switzerland introduced itself at the World Exposition in Seville in 1992. This was because it is not uniformity, but variety in a small space that defines Switzerland”.
Unit 11 pursues a developing interest in the intersection between architecture, landscape, science and technology, the natural and the synthetic. This could be described as a form of environmental architecture where the landscape is both the site and the source of inspiration and invention. This year we will travel to the Switzerland where the fusion of territorial, technical, political and social forces combine to produce the country’s distinct cultural and physical landscape.
A Land Locked Island
Switzerland has been described as a landlocked island, a result of physical isolation imposed by geological circumstance. The Swiss national identity, of fierce independence and a strong sense of traditional values, results in another kind of isolation, —‘cultural separation’. This sense of apartness that derives from physical separation is fundamental to an understanding of the Swiss national psyche.
In a country with 4 national languages, whose political landscape is made up of 26 semi-autonomous self-governed Cantons as culturally different, as France, Italy and Germany, it is perhaps no surprise that Switzerland does not consider itself to exist in the terms of the model of monolithic statehood understood by its European neighbours.
Swiss isolationism is perhaps most dramatically expressed in the Swiss National Redoubt, a defensive plan developed in the 1880s and only recently downscaled, which consists of a series of carefully located and disguised fortifications intended to secure strategic land routes and mountain passes across their international borders to create a defensible refuge in the heart of the mountains.
The Swiss army—which upholds armed neutrality for self-defence and internal security—augments the natural alpine fortress with an extensive safety net of man-made booby traps laced into roads, bridges, and even hillsides. The National Redoubt formalized in 1880 has ensured that the Swiss haven’t been to war for 700 years. Strategic land routes and mountain passes across their international borders are honeycombed by kilometers of underground galleries and bunkers buried deep in the Alps. The nondescript sheds and chalets with trompe l’oeil facades that most would fail to notice, are ersatz representations of rock faces and log cabins concealing 100 mighty forts, thousands of casements gun embrasures, searchlights, troops barracks, magazines, and supply depots.
The Swiss national ‘resistance’ is increasingly at odds with ongoing urbanization and internationalism of the region. Cultural and physical flexibility challenges the old topographic order and ‘rustic crustiness’ with which the Swiss conceal their modernity. We are going to look at the conditions, incentives and results of resistance and of change.
The pristine wilderness is in fact geotechnically manipulated and undergoes dramatic seasonal transformations, not only through the iced couture of the ski slopes but also through the ancient agricultural practice of transhumance from lowlands to upland valley grazing meadows. Historically the landscape attracts enthusiasts, artists, architects and engineers alike. The Alpine Club had Viollet-le-Duc as a founder member and John Ruskin in 1869, who met the club’s principles of promoting a “better knowledge of the mountains through literature, science and art”.
The awesome dominance of its sublime and elemental mountains—bucolic alpine panoramas with chocolate box views of bell-jangling cows grazing on wild flower meadows—belie a culture of modernity and scientific innovation. Despite the visual abundance of its landscape the ground is all but barren of natural resources yet is a cherished resource of scenic and recreational value, a tool of military utility and a living laboratory.
The mountains provide an environment for scientific research in the form of instrumented field sites (which investigate environmental events such as avalanche control and ecosystem monitoring) and the mammoth technical landscape of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN housed in a 27-kilometer tunnel 100m underground.
The Lie of the Land. Following a series of short tasks, and personal projects we will be interrogating the paradoxes, dualities and antithetical relationships inherent in the Swiss landscape and culture. Students in Yr 4 and Yr 5, will be encouraged to establish a personal interest and research theme that will be developed throughout the DR and Thesis design projects.
We will focus on technological strategies, geographical environments, science facts, science fictions, cultural myths as well as emerging realties. We will be posing real and hypothetical problems to be scrutinized in our studio-cum-laboratory environment. We will encourage leaps of faith as much as empirical testing with innovative design and production at the core.
Field Trip In November we will travel to Switzerland by train through the low land cities up to alpine villages and border lake towns. We hope to visit numerous architectural, scientific and military sites listed here.
Mario Botta: Tinguley Museum, Basel / Chapel of St Mary of the Angel / Church of San Giovanni Battista, Ticino
Paolo L Burgi: Cardada Viewpoint and geological observatory, Locarno
Gehry & Hadid, Saana, Herzog & De Meuron Vitra Campus, Basel
Group 8, Bois de la Bâtie Aviary, Geneva
Herzog & De Meuron: Messe Basel New Hall / Vitrahaus Showroom
Leuppi & Schafroth Architekten: Rhine Falls Visitor Center, Laufen-Uhwiesen
Peter Zumthor: Therme Vals / Saint Benedict Chapel / Roman Museum, Chur
Raderschall Landschaftsarchitekten: MFO Park, Oerlikon, Zurich
Jungfrau Mountain Railway
Hadron Collider, CERN
Image: ‘Arolla’ by Nicholas Faure (2004)