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Seminar Swiss Concreteness

Tom Veeger, Jan Schevers

Published Jul 24, 2020

How do you take the material as the starting point of your architectural design? This seminar explores the potential of concrete to make architectural structures. We did this by first researching and analyzing the work of the Swiss architecture firm Christ & Gantenbein.

Secondly, we performed several hands-on experiments with the actual material in a Master-class led by one of the architects.

It is the second part of ongoing research about the use of concrete in Swiss architectural practice. The seminar places great emphasis not only on the careful study of existing buildings and design principles but also makes extensive use of various explorative, investigative, and presentation techniques. The students involved with this seminar researched and analyzed the work of the Swiss architecture firm Christ & Gantenbein. Letting themselves be inspired by these 'Masters of Concrete' they have performed several hands-on experiments with the actual material in a workshop culminating in the execution of a giant concrete chessboard. The seminar also included a study trip to Switzerland to experience the work of Christ & Gantenbein and talk to one of their head architects, Daniel Manheim at their office. This was probably the best way to learn about 'Swiss concreteness'. What makes this country stand out in the world of architectural concrete? Is it the high level of craftsmanship, budget, and a strong base of knowledge rooted in tradition, or something else?

The almost unreal contrast between the concrete walls of the new building and the classical facades of the original Landesmuseum in Zurich fade into each other and show us a good example of the work of Basel's architectural firm Christ & Gantenbein. The work of this office is intriguing, in spite of the often deviant material use and architectural conceptuality it adds to the context and is incorporated into it. The expansion of the Landesmuseum in Zurich is one of the projects in which this is expressed but also in a project such as Wohn Werk in Basel it looks like an almost natural organic grown situation.

When visiting the office, it became clear what kind of quest is needed for architectural projects that are strong in their simplicity but complex in their elaboration. Many of the models, sketches, and renderings that passed during the presentation and tour showed us a will of constantly searching for that unique design needed for a certain situation. This seminar "Swiss Concreteness", in with the office of Christ & Gantenbein is the central research topic, offers us the opportunity to get a unique inside view of the process of one of the Swiss contemporary architects. The choice of combining this research with a hands-on workshop with the material concrete provides us with an opportunity to keep a similar search for the unknown, Aleph".

All architects, designers, and engineers need to fully understand the nature of the materials they deploy. Not only should they grasp the physical and structural properties of the materials. Nor should they merely appreciate its aesthetical presence. They also need to know about manufacturing elements and systems out of the chosen materials. They need to be confident about how materials behave when altered or formed and how connections can be made taking into account all of the above-mentioned issues and properties. When putting materials to use, structural or otherwise, one should have an intimate knowledge of a complete set of areas concerned with those materials and how they are intended to operate. This knowledge needs to reach beyond a theoretical approach based on quantitative data and visual examples. It needs to extend to actually working with the materials. To touch them, experience them in action and reflect on physical testing and results. Siebe Bakker (workshop tutor concrete casting)

Education in the coming years at our faculty will emphasize increasingly on the research component for which a seminar is outstandingly suitable. It offers us the opportunity to explore the concept of "research by design" furthermore. The choice of this topic has led us to acquire knowledge of the theoretical aspect of the design by this office combining it with the experience of the craft necessary for the use of the material concrete. All this is valuable and gave us the opportunity to "take a new step" in our development as architects.