June 16, 2007

Zurich (Switzerland)

Thursday the 14th we took an early train to Zurich. Swiss trains are a smooth ride and seem like they are always on time.

First stop was the Erdgenoessiche Technische Hochschule (ETH) campus, the university that has an architecture program which has graduates such as Le Corbusier, Herzog & de Meuron, and Santiago Calatrava (to name a few). The campus was 'ho-hum,' but the Law Library by Calatrava was a surprise, an impressive ellipse-shaped 6-story atrium space structured within an existing building's courtyard. Ellipse rings are clad with precise arrays of wood slats. Elevators at either end are wrapped in clear glass, giving view to the space going up or down, almost as if being swallowed down a throat (see photo). Natural lighting is choreographed delicately through a dynamic metal screen structure at the top, which was closed while we were there to control the amount of direct sunlight from exterior.

It was hot and muggy out, so we took a tram to the waterfront for a picnic. One of our 'best friends' in Switzerland has been the numerous COOP grocery stores, they have a decent selection of salads, sandwiches, and chocolate at reasonable prices. Also pint cans of cold beer for only CHF 1.80 (approx $1.50 USD). The lakes in Switzerland seem so clean... in Zurich we could see the bottom up to about 5m from the shore.. many fish and swans.. people swimming, etc. Much cleaner than the Thames anyway.

After lunch we walked a few blocks to Calatrava's Stadelhofen Train Station, another project that seems like it will rest comfortably well into the future. The organic steel forms are reminiscent of Terradactyl bone structures and centipede legs. Thin steel cables are stretched through supports on the elevated walking platform, encouraging ivy to grow out on them to provide shade. Half of the station is set into the hill, and there is a shopping court below the train rails in a concrete sculpted corridor.

When we were resting in a student lounge at the ETH earlier in the day, we noticed a poster advertising an art installation by Carsten Nicolai, "static fades" at the haus konstruktiv gallery. We first discovered Nicolai at the Mutek Festival in Montreal in 2004, during a mind-blowing performance from SIGNAL, the brain trust of the German music label
Raster Noton. ( SIGNAL is comprised of Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), Olaf Bender (Byetone), and Frank Bretschnieder (Komet)). The experimental and minimal music from the label is very pure in expression, and frequently, if not always, integrates their sound with a symbiotic visual component. Stumbling upon an installation by Carsten Nicoli is by no means a common encounter, we were very excited to have the opportunity to experience his first large solo exhibit is Switzerland first hand.

STATIC FADES. 'haus konstructiv' is a rather hidden gallery. When we arrived there was nobody there (spare 2 staff members), this was great knowing we'd have the gallery to ourselves, as his work embodies many acoustic subtleties that can be washed away by loud crowds (sound and light frequencies and electromagnetic fields). The exhibit was structured as (4) installations, each in a separate room. As the content has a lot of depth, we'll limit to commenting on only the first (2). The first installation was called 'static balance.' In a generous, high ceiling gallery space there were +/- 3m tall parabolic mirrors facing each other, spaced at either side of the room. It was both sculpture and a sound-channeling system, as an audible oscillating signal could be experienced in different depths as you walked around the space. The second installation was titled 'fades.' We were escorted down a dark (very dark) corridor into a rectangular room which was filled with a foggy mist. It was not possible to orientate at first. A funnel of mutating white light was being projected onto a far surface, creating a 3-dimensional dynamic light sculpture reflected by the mist. After a minute or so, a subtle sound frequency was noticeable, it seemed to fluctuate in sync with the forms, as if the two were inseparably meshed together. We stood silently absorbed for 30 minutes. 'Minimal' is often thought to be 'blank' or 'empty.' We found this work to be very imaginative and emotional. By editing so well, it provided a node of powerful contemplation... the forms were not recognizably defined which stimulated imagination. If you are in Zurich before August 1st be sure to make a stop!

A final stop was the
Freitag Store... made entirely of shipping containers (9 containers tall!). It was quite a sight from a distance, the industrial feel and colors looked beautiful against the late afternoon sky.

One disappointment... a long time goal of ours was to make it to
buro discount, the 'official' store for buro destruct, an atelier of Swiss graphic designers. (check out their books from the publisher Die Gerstalten Verlag). After mapping the location months ago and making sure we arrived at a time they were open during normal business hours, our efforts were greeted with a 'closed-early today' sign on the door. Haha! Oh well, less to carry.


  1. I stayed right across the street from Buro Discount last summer...and they were closed the day I was there, too. Looked really cool thru the window, and I was really sad. Zurich is awesome.

  2. Sweet, you actually saw the Freitag store! It won the award for the best store of 2006! Did you get me a Freitag bag? I always stay in Zurich when I go back home for a weekend. Yep, sometimes I take weekend trips from Portland to see friends and family...


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