In one of his 1922 travel essays for the Toronto Star Ernest Hemingway wrote, in a typically thewy tone, of “a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways and all stuck over with large brown hotels built [in] the cuckoo style of architecture.” This was his Switzerland: a country cornered in the heartland of Europe and yet distant from so much of its history. A nation which, for better or worse and particularly over the course of the 20th Century, has cultivated and become subject to a singularly one-dimensional reputation when it comes to architectural culture and the built environment. A new exhibition at the Swiss Architecture Museum (S AM) in Basel is attempting to reveal the fascinating paradoxes inherent in the contemporary Swiss architectural scene. Its rather direct, defiant title—Schweizweit: Recent Swiss Architecture—belies a more muted, if not provocative, curatorial ambition. As the first show realized under the leadership of Andreas Ruby, a Berlin-based critic and publisher who took the reins of organization in 2016, it represents an ostensibly soft landing into what is a notoriously closed and clandestine world. When one thinks of Swiss architecture—and plenty of projects can be found on ArchDaily which superficially attest to the stereotype—one thinks of precision construction, concrete, stone, and spatial grids. Peter Zumthor comes to mind; Valerio Olgiati, Mario Botta, Peter Märkli, Christian Kerez, Diener and Diener, Herzog de Meuron. Most do not perceive Switzerland as a land of radical architectural experimentation (and, if the aforementioned canon is anything to go by, professional gender diversity), nor is there a clear discussion on how or where a younger generation of contemporary practitioners are operating.
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