Swiss reach for the skies

Once, mountains and cable cars dominated the view in Switzerland, but more recently, the skylines of its cities have become taller and denser, and many in the famously neutral country feel quite strongly about the change to their environment.

Once, mountains and cable cars dominated the view in Switzerland, but more recently, the skylines of its cities have become taller and denser, and many in the famously neutral country feel quite strongly about the change to their environment.Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has laid the cornerstone for its new Basel headquarters, which, when completed this year, will be Switzerland’s tallest building. At 178 metres high, “Bau 1” will dwarf Switzerland’s current tallest structure, the Prime Tower in Zurich, by 52 metres, but this is still significantly shorter than Europe’s tallest skyscraper, The Shard in London, that stands 310 metres above the City pavements.However, nothing in Europe can reach the dizzying heights of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which at 828 metres, is the world’s tallest building. Nevertheless, the 41-storey Roche building is one of a number of skyscrapers planned for Switzerland that are proving to be highly controversial.Swiss idealThe stereotypical idea of a Swiss residence – and one that has been the ideal of many a Swiss citizen is of a wooden chalet in the countryside, but in common with many Western nations, the consequences of this model can be urban sprawl, so Swiss authorities have encouraged the concentration of development in cities and with 160 more towers said to be planned, many Swiss now feel that this desire to reach for the skies is getting out of control.Turning such plans into reality is not an easy process though. Tauoa Tower, a 120-metre high skyscraper has been planned for Lausanne for 22 years, but finding investors to kick-start construction has not been straightforward. In the case of the Lausanne tower, the protracted planning process has been partly due to the size and complexity of the development that incorporates apartments for sale and to rent, a 200-room hotel and a rooftop restaurant.The administrative process too was complicated, even though the local authorities were keen to have a new landmark building. The ownership of the building plot changed several times along with the configuration of its parts and in all, the citizens of Lausanne were simply unenthusiastic about the project.A towering questionIt seems that the German-speaking cities of Switzerland such as Bern and Zurich have generally been more amenable to high-rise development, which has been going on since the 1950s and ‘60s, but in mainly French-speaking cities such as Lausanne, the more traditional forms of architecture remain the favoured style for many.As in many European cities, the majority of the earlier tower blocks were designed as homes for the working-class and their austerity and the isolation that high-rise living meant for some was thought to contribute to a range of social problems. This time, the current concern over the new tranche of towers is quite the opposite, with Swiss liberals in particular, anxious that such huge projects are magnets for the kind of speculative development and concentrations of wealth that could lead to what they view as an unhealthy demographic.On 13 April there will be a vote on the future of Tauoa Tower. Lausanne’s mayor and Green Party member Daniel Brélaz hopes that the project will go ahead, and says, “today we would not have a cathedral with a bell tower or a university hospital if every project had been subject to a popular vote”.

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