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Grenchen wins heritage prize

The Park Theatre in Grenchen, one example of the town's award-winning architecture Keystone

The town of Grenchen has been awarded the prestigious Wakker Heritage Prize for the improvement of its public spaces and good preservation of post-war buildings.

This content was published on January 16, 2008 - 12:39

The award from the Swiss Heritage Society (SHS) is a boost to the town in northwestern Switzerland, which suffered during the watch-making industry recession of the 1980s.

Grenchen's town architect Claude Barbey told swissinfo that the Wakker Prize was a big chance for the town to improve its image.

"It's well known that we have been under a bit of cloud since the watch industry crisis – we don't know why ourselves. I think we now have the opportunity to make our quality of life and the quality of the town known at a national level," he said.

Barbey explained that Grenchen – Granges in French – developed an urban renewal strategy in 1996, with targeted measures such as the renovation of Market Square, road improvements and promoting good architecture.

"We developed a programme and we stuck to it faithfully," he said.

A statement from the SHS commended the "remarkable" transformation of Market Square into Grenchen's new point of identity. It also picked out the renovation of different post-war buildings, such as the Beda Hefti swimming pool or the Haldenschulhaus.

"Great challenges"

The society also praised the town's determined efforts to turn its fortunes around over the past decade.

"The difficult structure of a village-based town, the heavy traffic load and the problematic economic situation all presented great challenges," Barbie said, adding that the effort had paid off, although securing a prize of this stature was not part of the plan.

"To be honest it was not a goal. Our goal was to improve our town centre step by step and to give it a face-lift. We now have external recognition that we are moving in the right direction."

Grenchen is a relatively young town which was still a village 150 years ago. "For this reason we don't have a historic town centre, but now visitors will discover that we do have an attractive town centre," Barbey said.

The town is also a good hunting ground for the SHS's current awareness campaign focusing on the architecture of the recent past. With the slogan "Revival – the architecture of the 1950s", the society is seeking the recognition of more buildings from this era as architectural monuments.
 

Grenchen

Grenchen is located at the foot of the Jura mountains between Solothurn and Biel.

With over 16,000 inhabitants, it is one of the larger towns in canton Solothurn.

The city is well known for its watch industry, which has existed for some 150 years.

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Wakker Prize

The Wakker Prize, bequeathed by Geneva businessman Henri-Louis Wakker, has been awarded annually by the Swiss Heritage Society since 1972.

It goes to a town or village that demonstrates an exemplary performance in the development of town planning and appearance.

A specialist committee evaluates numerous candidates every year and compares their commitment to building culture. The prizewinner is chosen by the Society's board of directors based on the recommendations of the committee.

The Wakker Prize 2007 went to Altdorf in central Switzerland.

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