Thanks to urbanisation and industrial growth, Switzerland has always been a fertile ground for architects who carry out their work at home and abroad.
Not only has the country produced several noteworthy architects of its own, it has also attracted several foreign big names.
But the country’s small size and lack of large projects have resulted in many Swiss architects seeking work abroad.
Architects in history
The most illustrious of these architects before the 20th century was Francesco Borromini, the adopted name of Francesco Castelli (1599 –1667). Borromoni was an Italian-speaking Swiss who, with his contemporaries, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pietro da Cortona, was a leading figure in the emergence of Italian Baroque architecture.
Borromini studied the architectural work of Michelangelo and the remains of classical antiquity. Out of this he developed a distinctive personal style and created buildings characterised by geometrical rationales and symbolic meanings.
The most famous of 20th century Swiss architects was Charles Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965) – better known as Le Corbusier. He was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Swiss Jura, but spent most of his professional life in France.
Le Corbusier was most famous for his functionalist architecture and his contribution to town planning. One of his designs has recently been restored in his hometown in Switzerland, but many others can be seen in France and even as far away as India.
In July 2016, UNESCO added the architectural works of Le Corbusier – buildings in Switzerland, France, India and Argentina, among others – to the list of World Heritage sites.
More recently, Mario Botta, from Italian-speaking Switzerland, has made a name for himself internationally with his bold designs.
Botta’s buildings include churches, banks, the Lugano bus station and several museums in Switzerland and abroad. His most famous works are the Tinguely Museum in Basel, the Dürrenmatt Centre in Neuchâtel, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and the newly rebuilt La Scala Opera House in Milan. He has been a lecturer at a number of universities and now teaches at Lugano University.
The Basel-based architects Herzog and de Meuron have been responsible for two outstanding projects in London: the Tate Modern and the Laban Dance Centre. Herzog and de Meuron were commissioned for the Tate Modern’s newest building, which was unveiled in 2016.
They also designed the Schaulager in Basel, a combination of warehouse and museum, and the main stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In 2001 they were awarded the Pritzker Prize, the highest of honours in architecture.
In 2009, Peter Zumthor became the second Pritzker laureate from Switzerland. Among his much-praised Swiss buildings are the Thermal Baths in Vals.
Another world-renowned architect, the French-Swiss Bernard Tschumi, designed the Blue Tower in Manhattan and the new museum at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens.
Work of foreign architects in Switzerland
A number of buildings in Switzerland have been designed by outstanding foreign architects. The Paul Klee Centre in Bern (opened in 2005 and pictured above) is the work of the Italian architect Renzo Piano, who also designed the museum of the Beyeler Foundation near Basel (opened 1997).
The Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre was designed by Jean Nouvel, of France, and opened in 1998.