The exhibition «Swim City», held at the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum from the 25th of May to the 29th of September 2019, is the first to draw attention to a particular contemporary phenomenon in urban space: river swimming as a mass movement. Swiss cities have played a leading role in the development of this activity over the last few decades, gradually opening up the river as a natural public space within the built environment. The river has thereby become a place of leisure, open to all, located right in front of residents’ doors and seamlessly integrated into everyday life. The rest of the world looks on in awe at this bathing culture, seeing it as an example of how waterways in cities can be reclaimed for the people in order to sustainably improve the quality of life in urban centers.
The river as public space
For the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum, the exhibition «Swim City» is about demonstrating the importance of public space. With this show, the museum renders the experience of river swimming tangible, sheds light on its historical development and current manifestation, and also explains its relevance for creating cities worth living in. This is because the public space of a city is ultimately just as important to people’s well-being as the buildings are. Swimming in the river allows one to actively occupy this urban space and experience the city differently: for once, it is the city and not the water, that drifts by before one’s eyes. In today’s Switzerland, it is easy to take the river swimming for granted. However, the fact that it is possible to use urban rivers in this way now is in fact the result of deliberate interventions, both on the political (e.g. the Switzerland-wide ban on phosphates in cleaning agents, which has significantly improved water quality) and physical level (e.g. the construction of steps for entering and exiting the river).
The experience of river swimming in the city
What awaits the museum visitor, specifically? First of all, an immersive film installation makes it possible to experience river swimming from the perspective of a swimmer. The Zurich-based film director Jürg Egli was commissioned to conceive and realize this piece. The footage was captured using a camera raft that was specially developed for this installation, making it possible to film above and under the water at the same time. Filming took place during summer 2018 in the four Swiss cities of Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva.
The bathing cultures on the Rhine, Aare, Limmat and Rhone
The second part of the exhibition examines the urban bathing cultures in the Swiss cities of Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva, with a particular focus on the local characteristics and specific historical developments in each city. In Basel, interventions from the top down as well as the bottom up, combined with the Schweizerhalle chemical incident, have prompted river swimming in the Rhine to be re-established in such a way that summer without Rhine swimming would be unthinkable today. In Bern, the centuries-old tradition of swimming in the Aare is experiencing an unprecedented boom in popularity, posing new challenges with regards to safety and infrastructure. In Zurich, the historical bathhouses along the Limmat from the backbone of the local river-swimming scene, providing for great atmospheric diversity. In Geneva, the bathing culture in the Rhone is grassroots and informal, while the rapid change it is currently undergoing exemplifies the challenges and potentials of the river as a contested space.
River-swimming projects all over the world
The third part of the exhibition presents international projects that are attempting to realize Swiss-style river-swimming in their local contexts. Projects in Europe (Flussbad Berlin, POOL IS COOL in Brussels, Thames Baths in London, Ilot Vert in Paris) and North America (Charles River Initiative in Boston, +POOL in New York) demonstrate how various cities are approaching the task of opening up their waterways to everyone as places for swimming and recreation. A number of these have even been directly influenced by the culture of river swimming in Switzerland. Some propose alternative visions through design interventions; others lobby for a political paradigm shift through research and direct action in public space. Common to them all is a bottom-up approach to urban design that departs from purely built solutions, instead of developing a multifaceted practice at the intersection of politics, design and science. This part of the exhibition was realized in cooperation with the Future Architecture Platform, an association of European architectural institutions promoting innovative positions in architecture and urban development. The S AM Swiss Architecture Museum has been a member of this association since 2016.
Accompanying publication «Swim City» offers further depth
To accompany the exhibition, the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum is releasing the Christoph Merian Verlag publication «Swim City» (224 pages, ISBN 978-3-85616-889-6, CHF 39).
OrganizersS AM Swiss Architecture Museum
FromMay 25, 2019 08:27 AM
UntilSeptember 29, 2019 08:28 AM
VenueS AM Swiss Architecture Museum