The topographical project by Herzog & de Meuron - ISPLORA

The topographical project by Herzog & de Meuron


The new forum for the University of Zurich dialogues with the context and with architecture.

The Herzog & de Meuron firm has been selected by the University of Zurich to build its new center for teaching and learning: the FORUM UZH. The project by the Basel-based firm, in fact, won the architectural competition for the construction of the new building for the University of Zurich which will house the faculties of Law, Economics and Modern Languages. The area it will stand on is inside the campus of the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), in parallel with the main university buildings and not far from Zurich’s old town.

The project of the FORUM UZH was presented in Zurich on January 8, on this occasion Pierre de Meuron –co-founder of the firm – revealed: "The public competition for the University of Zurich was an exciting and inspiring challenge. As in any competition, it is crucial not only to meet the prescribed specifications but also to anticipate and interpret the often unspoken needs and expectations of clients and users. Moreover, as made manifest in recent controversial public debate, major new construction in Zurich’s university and hospital quarter is a sensitive issue. The simple, compact volume of our project harmonizes with the neighboring buildings and gives them room to breathe". Jacques Herzog said that the project represents “a premium around the university, where more and more area is required for diverse institutions to guarantee a future for their research and teaching missions.” The Swiss architect then added a question: “How, then, can spaces be created for people and nature?”

In this regard, the project seems to provide a possible answer, a key to interpretation, which puts the relationship with the land and the respect of the existing context at the heart of the architectural project.

The project by Herzog & de Meuron is an answer to the local topography through a system of plinths and terraces, retreating from the road and generating a new public space in a dialog – through the forum – with the new university building

The design team, which aside from the international firm Herzog & de Meuron also worked in collaboration with b + p baurealisation ag, developed an idea whose strength lies in the combination of its functions and the overlapping spaces for education (16,000sqm), research (14,000sqm), sport facilities (3,900sqm), the forum (2,600sqm), catering (2,000sqm) and university services (2,300sqm). The extremely diversified functional program develops over more than 40,000sqm, the equivalent of 5.5 football pitches, through a plan which focuses mainly on three topics, three relationships: science and the city; a new center for training and research; a square in the center of the university district.

The three topics are counterbalanced by the three main aspects of the project: the decision to move back from the street represented by Rämistrasse Gloriastrasse and the historical buildings overlooking Rämistrasse, the base – defined as a “topographical plinth” – of the square and the internal courtyards, the independent glazed volume destined for research. The forum is the junction between the different parts, a transparent object, a hall for the public life of the campus, events and exhibition.

The topographical and typological components are both brought into play, characterized by three elements which the Basel-based firm describes as “an underground plinth, an independent building and the Forum”

The plinth, or better the topographical base, is destined for teaching and is characterized by terraces built around a central hall: the ForumThis element allows a transition between inside and outside through a garden leading to a transparent volume on five levels. If the base interacts with the neighborhood and the university campus, the forum is the fulcrum of this public function. The stand-alone trapezoid building which seems to rise from these elements has a different goal, to guarantee a separate space for research and study, with classrooms and a large reading room. The external skin, glazed and shielded by curved brise-soleils, provides a double image: a stone monolith or a transparent and light diamond.

Starting from these elements, the analysis of this building can be traced back to the hard work carried out by Herzog & de Meuron: from the experiments for the Vitra, to great museums such as the CaixaForum Madrid or the restoration of the Tate Modern in London, up to the Fondazione Feltrinelli in Milan and the recent project for the Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg.

As for the other great public work under construction in Zurich, the Kinderspital, once again attention is focused on natural light and the study of forms of expression, the result of an intense composition and theoretical research which focuses on the context of the two Zurich buildings.  

All images are by gentle courtesy of © Herzog & de Meuron


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